Pushing America First, Trump Seeks Common Ground in France

U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in France Thursday for Bastille Day celebrations that will see American and French troops marching together Friday on Paris’ famed Champs Élysées.

The two-day trip could be somewhat of a respite from media scrutiny on alleged links between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, but he was expected to face further questions during a news conference in Paris late Thursday relating to a meeting last year between his son, Donald Trump, Jr., and a Russian lawyer. The younger Trump released emails showing he believed the meeting was to discuss possible damaging material against the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Watch: Trump Heads for Difficult Encounter in France

Ahead of the pageantry, the U.S. president will try to find common ground on issues of Syria and counterterrorism, in otherwise strained relations with France’s young new president, Emmanuel Macron.

Macron made headlines at the NATO summit last May, when cameras focused on his handshake with Trump, in which the slender, 39-year-old French leader firmly gripped Trump’s hand for several seconds in what some media characterized as an arm wrestle.

Awkward visit

President Trump’s aim is to show that his administration remains engaged with traditional European allies. Like Trump, Macron is newly elected and assumes leadership as a political outsider. Analysts say this next meeting promises to be a civil encounter, although it will be difficult to hide the profound differences between the two.

“At the same time, this will be a particularly awkward encounter; because the French not only have elected a president who is almost the antithesis of Mr. Trump, but there is this deep animosity to the fact that the Trump administration is withdrawing from the Paris climate accord,” said Timothy Stafford, a U.S. foreign policy researcher at the Henry Jackson Society.

Many French, including Macron, are dismayed by the U.S. decision, largely because France put much work into hosting the 2015 climate change summit and considers the agreement a great achievement.

“So to finally have reached a conclusion on that agreement only to see the newly elected United States president withdraw the U.S. from it almost with next to no notification, that will be a very sore point of contention at those meetings and no matter how much they try to paper over it in their public appearances, you can be sure that in the private discussions that they have, the French will be doing everything they can to try to find some sort of solution to this,” Stafford said.

​Putin ties; nervous West

Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on display in their marathon meeting at the G-20 last Friday, is another thorn in the relationship.

France, along with the rest of Western Europe, is nervous.

“There’s nothing that’s happened there in substantive terms in which we should worry a lot,” said Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in London. “But the process, the language, the way in which he seems very ready to use quite harsh language against allies and more reluctant to use harsh (language) against Russia makes people think, well a few months down the line, are we going to see an American initiative on Syria, or Russia, or on Ukraine, or somewhere else agreed with the Kremlin before it’s been discussed with people in Paris, or Berlin or indeed London.”

This is Trump’s third overseas visit since taking office in January. All three trips have included Europe.

For Trump, the visit to the French capital and his participation in a high-profile event attended by other global leaders is a way to show America remains engaged with the world under his administration while promoting Americans’ interests. For Macron, it is a chance to assert himself as a strong leader who is able to deal with and influence major powers. On Thursday, a headline in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro read “Macron wants Trump to Emerge from Isolation.”

On Friday, the U.S. president and first lady Melania Trump will take part in Bastille Day celebrations and commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I.

Shortly after Air Force One touched down at Paris’ Orly airport Thursday, the U.S leader went into meetings with U.S. embassy personnel and U.S. military officials.

Later Thursday, Trump was to tour Les Invalides, a 17th century complex housing a military museum and the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, before heading to the Élysée Palace for meetings with Macron.

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