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France's Macron visits Trump as Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance


April 23. 2018 8:30PM
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron arrive for their state visit to Washington and meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump after landing at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S. April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder 

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron emphasized pomp and ceremony on Monday as Macron began a state visit to Washington likely to be dominated by differences with the United States over trade and the nuclear accord with Iran.

As Macron headed to the United States, the Iranian government urged European leaders to convince Trump not to tear up the 2015 deal between Tehran and six world powers.

The French president said on Sunday there was no "Plan B" for keeping a lid on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

He is on something of a rescue mission for what is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Trump has said he will scrap unless European allies fix by mid-May what he called "terrible flaws."

"This visit is very important in our current context, with so many uncertainties, troubles and at times threats," Macron said in French remarks as he arrived in Washington.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on European leaders to support the agreement.

"It is either all or nothing. European leaders should encourage Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more important to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith," Zarif wrote on Twitter.

The deal reached between six powers — all of whom but Germany are nuclear-armed — and Tehran put curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Minutes after Macron touched down in the United States, the White House said it had no announcements on the Iran deal. White House spokesman Sarah Sanders added, "The President has been extremely clear that he thinks it's a bad deal. That certainly has not changed."

Macron said on "Fox News Sunday" it would be better to protect the deal instead of getting rid of it. "Is this agreement perfect and this JCPOA a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran? No. But for nuclear, what do you have as a better option? I don't see it," he said.

Charm offensive

Macron's visit is the first time Trump has hosted a state visit since he took power in January 2017. While the French leader has tried to develop a close relationship with Trump since he took office last May, he has so far seen few tangible results on issues from Iran to climate politics.

Macron and his wife, Brigitte, shortly after their arrival at the Blair House residence, took quickly to the streets of Washington, walking past the White House complex to the Lincoln Memorial and greeting tourists.

Macron brought with him an oak tree sapling for planting on the South Lawn of the White House. The tree came from the Belleau Woods, site of a World War I battle in 1918 where 9,000 Americans died.

Trump and Macron shoveled dirt on the freshly planted tree as the cameras clicked. "France is a very special country," said Trump. "It's a great honor."

Trump and his wife, Melania, and the Macrons then flew aboard Trump's Marine One helicopter to dine at Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, the first President and Revolutionary War commander whose alliance with France was critical to victory over the British.

Working meetings will be held at the White House on Tuesday before Macron addresses Congress the following day, the anniversary of the day General Charles de Gaulle addressed a joint session of Congress in 1960.

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