French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Washington on Monday for a state visit likely to be dominated by differences with the United States over trade and the nuclear accord with Iran.
As Macron headed west, the Iranian government urged European leaders to convince U.S. President Donald 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 his Twitter account.
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 spokeswoman 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 that 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.
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 little tangible results on issues from Iran to climate politics.
The two men will get a sense of their countries’ shared history during a meal on Monday night at Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George Washington, the first U.S. 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 the U.S. Congress the following day, the anniversary of the day French General Charles de Gaulle addressed a joint session of Congress in 1960.
Trump and Macron began their friendship a year ago in Belgium with a jaw-clenching handshake. While some other European leaders have kept a certain distance from Trump, Macron has worked hard to remain close to the U.S. president. The two leaders speak frequently by phone.
Highlighting the difficulties Macron will face reversing Trump’s mind on Iran, U.S. non-proliferation envoy Christopher Ford said Tehran presented a very real long-term challenge.
“Iran (is) a country that for years illegally and secretly sought to develop nuclear weapons, suspended its weaponization work only when confronted by the potentially direst of consequences without ever coming clean about its illicit endeavors,” Ford told a non-proliferation conference in Geneva.
Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.
Macron also wants to persuade Trump to exempt European nations from metal tariffs that are part of the U.S. president’s plan to reduce chronic trade deficits with countries around the world, chiefly China.
His visit comes at a time of mounting alarm in Europe over the effect that U.S. sanctions on Russia will have on their own manufacturing industries.
French officials said that Paris and other European governments were coordinating efforts to persuade Trump to ease sanctions on Russia, including measures against Russian aluminum producers.
“There are concerns raised by the extraterritoriality effects of the new sets of sanctions,” a French finance ministry source said. “Europeans … have jointly warned the U.S. administration about the economic impact and consequences and the need to find solutions.”
The official said France, Germany, Italy and Ireland were working together on the matter. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold talks with Trump in Washington later in the week.
Macron and Trump are also due to discuss Syria — less than two weeks after the United States, France and Britain launched airstrikes in Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens in Douma, Syria.
Macron said last week that he believed he had persuaded Trump to keep U.S. troops in Syria, though Trump has been insistent on bringing them home.