President Donald Trump will meet with both the French president and German chancellor this week in Washington as a deadline looms for deciding whether the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump faces a European double bill this week as a deadline looms for deciding whether the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, arriving back to back, will bring a unified message: Save the deal.
“I don’t have any Plan B for nuclear (protections) against Iran,” Macron said Sunday on Fox News. “Let’s preserve the framework because it is better than a sort of North Korea-type situation.”
Iran’s foreign minister made the point more dramatically, warning that if Trump quits the 2015 agreement Tehran may respond by resuming and intensifying its nuclear program.
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Javad Zarif, who helped negotiate the nuclear deal, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Iran might consider “resuming at a much greater speed” its nuclear activities. “Obviously the rest of the world cannot ask us to unilaterally and one-sidedly implement a deal that has already been broken.
“I think the international community has seen that … the United States under this administration has not been in a mood to fulfill its obligations,” Zarif said. “So that makes the United States not very trustworthy.”
The dual nuclear problems — Iran and North Korea — are coming to a head simultaneously.
Trump has said he would scrap the Iran accord unless co-signatories France, Germany and Britain can “fix” it. Unless revisions are made, he said he would not sign another waiver of U.S. sanctions on May 12, the next deadline, potentially wrecking the deal.
Trump also is hoping to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by mid-June in a push to roll back the country’s nuclear arsenal. On Sunday, Trump uncharacteristically sought to downplay expectations of the proposed summit. “Only time will tell,” he posted on Twitter.
U.S. and European diplomats have been looking for ways to address some of Trump’s concerns, including Iran’s production of ballistic missiles and its support for extremist groups elsewhere in the Middle East — issues that were never tied to the nuclear deal.
But the diplomats still are not “across the finish line,” a senior administration official said Friday. Macron and Merkel will try to persuade Trump not to renege on the deal.
Macron, who arrives Monday for a three-day state visit, and Merkel, who comes Friday for a 24-hour working visit, have other concerns, including the U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Macron has the best chance of getting through to Trump. The president seemed enamored of the brash, self-confident French leader, admiring his Bastille Day military parade last summer and dinner under the stars at the Eiffel Tower.
“We have a very special relationship because both of us are probably the maverick of the systems on both sides,” Macron said Sunday.
The relationship seems to be growing between the two leaders despite divergent political views on issues like the international role in Syria and climate change.
Macron “has broken the code when it comes to dealing with President Trump,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.
“He has been, I think, the most successful in trying to convince the president to think through some very important issues … to France and to the European Union,” Conley said.
At the very least, the agenda will be clear to both sides when Macron arrives. Following their joint attack, with Britain, on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical-weapons facilities early this month, there is a Syria strategy to figure out. Trade, climate change, Russia, North Korea and counterterrorism are all on the to-do list.
But no issue looms larger than Iran. Trump has called the 2015 nuclear agreement a bad deal and said the United States will withdraw unless it is “fixed.” Signatories France, Britain and Germany vehemently disagree, say there can be no changes to the agreement, and have pledged they will not follow Trump’s lead.
Enter Macron. By consensus among his counterparts in Europe, if there is accommodation to be reached with Trump on Iran, he is the man to close the deal.
Senior French, British and German officials have been negotiating for months with a State Department team led by Brian Hook, director of policy planning, to come up with a way to meet Trump’s demands without altering the deal itself or driving the other signatories — Russia, China and, of course, Iran — to cry foul.
According to U.S. and European officials involved in those talks, significant progress has been made on addressing concerns about the deal’s sunset clauses, its verification rules, and the absence of restrictions on Iranian ballistic-missile testing and development, as well as new measures to counter Iran’s “malign” activities in Syria and beyond in the Middle East. Four documents have been drafted that they believe are responsive to Trump’s criticisms.
An overall declaration and three subtexts are to outline their joint understanding that other international conventions will prohibit Iran from developing nuclear weapons beyond restrictions that expire in the next decade, push the International Atomic Energy Agency to expand its monitoring and promise strict sanctions if Iran moves forward with intercontinental ballistic missile development.
Neither Macron nor the White House expect a final decision by Trump during the French president’s visit, officials from both countries said. For their part, the Europeans worry that the mercurial U.S. president, who railed against the deal during his presidential campaign and ever since, will ultimately decide to trash it even if his State Department recommends otherwise.
But Macron has been working toward this moment for months. “What I told him was not to tear up the deal,” he told journalists in October.
“It’s a very longshot, but it’s the only one we have,” François Heisbourg, a former French presidential adviser on defense and national security, said of the Macron offensive. “You might as well try.”
The length and depth of the U.S.-French relationship will be spotlighted during the visit, an extravaganza of activities clearly designed to match Trump’s reception in Paris last summer. After his midday Monday arrival, Macron and his wife will travel by helicopter with the Trumps to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home about 15 miles south of Washington, for dinner, weather permitting, on the broad terrace overlooking the Potomac River.
“President Trump is eager to host” the Macrons at Mount Vernon, “as he remembers fondly the dinner (Macron) hosted at the Eiffel Tower on the eve of Bastille Day” for Trump and the first lady, said a senior administration official who briefed reporters Friday on the visit, on White House-imposed condition of anonymity.
On Tuesday morning, Trump and Macron will hold a one-on-one meeting, followed by expanded talks with their delegations. U.S. officials will include Vice President Mike Pence, the secretaries of state, treasury, defense and commerce, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Trump national-security adviser John Bolton and economic adviser Larry Kudlow.
Macron will attend a State Department lunch hosted by Pence and a state dinner at the White House on Tuesday.
He will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday morning, the anniversary of a 1960 address there by former French President Charles de Gaulle. In the afternoon, after a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, he will hold a town-hall meeting with students at George Washington University, followed by a solo news conference before his departure.
The Francophile fanfare is a far cry from 2003, when Republican lawmakers, angry that France opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, ordered cafeterias on Capitol Hill to change offerings of French fries to Freedom fries, and French toast to Freedom toast.
Unlike Macron, the staid Merkel has never really gotten along with Trump. He openly mocked her for Germany’s decision to accept refugees flowing out of Syria.
Unlike France, Germany operates on a parliamentary system, and so Europe’s longest-serving elected leader must act through compromise and coalition, messy concepts for Trump.
After the Iran nuclear deal, trade will top Merkel’s agenda. She, Macron and other European leaders often express frustration that Trump, in his emphasis on bilateral trade agreements, displays a misunderstanding of how the European Union works.
Most trade and commerce must be handled through rules governing the 28-nation bloc, not individual member states. Because she heads the largest economy in the European Union, Merkel will lobby Trump for exemptions to his plans to impose trade tariffs.
Analysts say she has repeatedly pointed out to Trump that German investment in the United States is larger than the other way around — to the tune of $291 billion that creates 680,000 U.S. jobs.