French president will offer the US president and his wife dinner at the Eiffel Tower – among other delights.
The US president, Donald Trump, has arrived in Paris and is due to be greeted with a show of military pomp by the French leader Emmanuel Macron, who has chosen to move from his aggressive first handshake and style himself as Trump’s new “straight-talking” best friend on the international stage.
Trump, under pressure over his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the US election campaign, on Thursday began a 24-hour visit to the French capital, where Macron will woo him by escorting him to Napoleon’s tomb, taking him to dinner at the Eiffel Tower then watching the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Elysées.
The centrist president’s invitation to Trump might at first seem surprising, after he publicly asserted his superiority by crunching Trump’s knuckles at their first meeting in May and later rebuked him for pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord.
But the invitation is part of a determined strategy by Macron, who – observing the US president’s increasing isolation on the western stage – has sensed an opportunity.
Christophe Castaner, a government minister and spokesman, described it as a kind of persuasive bridge-building with Trump. “Sometimes Trump makes decisions we don’t like, such as on climate. But we can deal with it in two ways: we can say ‘We are not going to talk to you,’ or we can offer you our hand to bring you back into the circle,” he said.
The invitation for a US leader to attend this year’s Bastille day military parade had been in the pipeline long before either Trump or Macron were elected, because 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into the first world war. Inviting foreign leaders to Bastille Day celebrations is common in France – Nicolas Sarkozy even made Syria’s Bashar al-Assad a guest of honour in 2008. But it was not certain Trump would accept when Macron personally re-issued the invitation in a phone call last month.
The Elysée has added what one official called a personal “post-card” tourism touch: instead of dining at the Elysée Palace, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will invite the Trumps to eat a meal cooked by the chef Alain Ducasse in a restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
It is a deliberate attempt to show the French capital was still “welcoming” after Trump told a rally that “Paris is no longer Paris” following a string of terrorist attacks.
The Trump organisation has no financial interests in France and it is unclear how well the US president knows the country. He said last year that the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks would have been very different if French citizens were allowed to carry guns.
On Thursday afternoon Macron and Trump will hold more than an hour of talks at the Elysée Palace focused mainly on counter-terrorism, Syria, Iraq and French anti-jihadi military operations in north Africa. “Where we have differences, we talk about them very clearly – such as on climate – but there are issues like counter-terrorism where we are on the same line and need close cooperation and common action,” an Elysée official said.
French diplomats said Macron had been concerned about Trump feeling backed into a corner. The French leader has seen a potential opportunity to sway US thinking and elevate the role of France – a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN security council – in global affairs, in particular on Syria and the Middle East.
France is the second-biggest contributor to the US-led coalition in Syria and French officials had expressed concerns about what vision the US had in Syria beyond taking the military fight to Islamic State.
The two leaders are starkly different. Trump, 71, is an anti-globalist elected on a pledge to put America first. Macron, 39, believes in a kind of cosmopolitan globalism and is an ardent pro-European. Yet they share some traits – both were outsiders who challenged their country’s political status quo. Trump loves a winner and although he deemed Macron’s far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, the “strongest” candidate in May’s French presidential election, he has praised Macron’s solid election score.
The military pomp of the Trump visit reflects Macron’s new style of showmanship diplomacy seen when he invited Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the palace of Versailles. It is aimed at highlighting French prestige and grandeur and as much for his domestic audience as foreign leaders.
Macron’s defiant, alpha-male handshake with Trump when they first met in Brussels in May played well at home in France. “He had to show the French domestic audience he knew how to say no to America,” said Philippe Roger, author of the American Enemy, a history of French anti-Americanism, adding that for Macron to be seen to be too pro-US would be the “kiss of death” in French politics. But he said Macron was now showing it was time to talk to Trump.
“I think Macron understands very well that with Mr Trump you have to be present – see him and talk to him face to face … Ambassadors don’t exist for Trump … The only thing is to be in the same room and to talk.”
Laurence Nardon, head of the US programme the French institute of international relations (IFRI) said: “Macron’s team tried to establish respect in the first phase and now Macron is trying to become the best buddy in the second phase. It strikes me really as quite clever. It’s probably a very smart approach to deal with a bully.”
Pointing to the sword dance Trump took part in on his trip to Saudi Arabia, she said that Trump clearly enjoys honours and pageantry. “I would say that Bastille Day is the French equivalent of a sword dance,” she said. “Because he is a very impulsive person it might set the stage for a more positive dialogue.”
Security will be tight but French authorities do not anticipate large-scale protests against Trump. There will be a street demonstration against Trump and a “No Trump Zone” at Paris’s Place de la République where organisers linked to the Paris’s Nuit Debout movement said they would stand against Trump’s “anti-migrant positions, sexism, islamphobia and racism”.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing party France Unbowed, said last month that Trump was “not at all welcome” on Bastille day.