WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House on Monday, marking the start of a three-day summit during which both leaders are expected to discuss trade and national security issues — including Trump’s stated desire to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, a move Macron strongly opposes.
This is the first official state visit that the president has hosted, and it will be punctuated Tuesday night by the administration’s first official state dinner, at which Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, will be the marquee guests at a gala for 150 people. The president has met one-on-one at the White House with several heads of state since taking office, but those events were not surrounded by the pomp-and-circumstance reserved for a state visit.
In an interview with Fox News Sunday taped before his visit, Macron said his top priorities for the trip were to convince Trump to remain in the Iran nuclear deal and to press him to reconsider the tariffs on aluminum and steel the president unveiled last month.
Trump has repeatedly said the United States should withdraw from the multinational Iran nuclear deal by May 12 if conditions to the nearly three-year-old deal are not reworked. He has argued that the deal, signed by the Obama administration and the leaders of France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, is “weak” and does not go far enough to block Iran’s long-range missile program.
Macron told Fox News that while the Iran agreement is not “a perfect thing,” Trump should not withdraw from it before a new agreement is reached. If the United States exits the deal, Macron said, it could upend the accord altogether.
“For nuclear, what do you have as a better option?” Macron told Fox News host Chris Matthews. “I don’t see it. What is the what-if scenario or your plan B? I don’t have any plan B for nuclear against Iran.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked at Monday’s press briefing about Trump’s willingness to stick with the Iran deal until new terms are negotiated, said the president continues to view the agreement as a “bad deal.”
“The president has been extremely clear that he thinks it’s a bad deal, that certainly has not changed,” Sanders said.
Despite their policy differences, Trump is “eager to host the Macrons,” a senior White House official said in a briefing last week, adding that the president remembers “fondly” his reception in France last July, when Macron hosted a dinner for him at the Eiffel Tower and honored him at the country’s annual Bastille Day Parade.
Here in Washington, the pageantry began Monday evening with a tree-planting ceremony at the White House that was followed by a rare private dinner between the presidents and their wives at Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George Washington. The couples dined on Dover sole stuffed with lemon ricotta and chocolate souffle and cherry vanilla ice cream for dessert, according to the White House.
“France is a very special country,” Trump told reporters before heading to Mount Vernon.
According to a timeline posted on the Mount Vernon website, the last time a president used the estate to host a dinner for a visiting head-of-state was 1961, when President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, selected the venue to entertain the president of Pakistan and his daughter; the choice was said to have been Mrs. Kennedy’s.
On Tuesday, the Macrons will be greeted at the White House with a traditional arrival ceremony on the South Lawn that will include a 21-gun salute. That evening, they will be the featured guests a gala state dinner for about 150 people.
Speaking to reporters after his plane landed Monday, Macron called this week’s visit “a great honor, and, I think, a very important state visit given the moment of our current environment.”