President Trump faces a European double bill this week as a crucial deadline looms for a decision on whether to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, arriving back to back, will bring a unified message: Save the deal.
“I don’t have any Plan B for nuclear [protections] against Iran,” Macron said Sunday on Fox News. “Let’s preserve the framework because it is better than a sort of North Korea-type situation.”
Iran’s foreign minister made the point more dramatically, warning that if Trump quits the 2015 accord, Tehran may respond by relaunching and intensifying its now-blocked nuclear program.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who helped negotiate the nuclear deal, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Iran might consider “resuming at a much greater speed” its nuclear activities.
“Obviously the rest of the world cannot ask us to unilaterally and one-sidedly implement a deal that has already been broken,” Zarif said.
“I think the international community has seen that … the United States under this administration has not been in a mood to fulfill its obligations,” he said. “So that makes the United States not very trustworthy.”
The dual nuclear dilemmas — Iran and North Korea — are coming to a head in a dramatically short span of time.
Trump has vowed to scrap the 2015 Iran accord unless co-signatories France, Germany and Britain can “fix” it. Unless revisions are made, he has vowed not to sign another waiver of U.S. sanctions on May 12, the next deadline, potentially wrecking the deal.
Trump also is hoping to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by mid-June in a push to roll back the country’s growing nuclear arsenal. On Sunday, Trump uncharacteristically sought to downplay expectations of the proposed summit. “Only time will tell,” he tweeted.
U.S. and European diplomats have been brainstorming ways to address some of Trump’s concerns, including Iran’s production of ballistic missiles and its support for militant groups elsewhere in the Middle East — issues that were never tied to the nuclear deal.
But the diplomats still are not “across the finish line,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday.
Both Macron and Merkel will try to persuade Trump not to renege on the deal.
Macron, who arrives Monday for a three-day official state visit, and Merkel, who comes Friday for a 24-hour working visit, have other concerns, including the tariffs that Trump has imposed on steel and aluminum.
Macron has the best chance of getting through to Trump. The U.S. president seemed enamored of the brash, self-confident French leader, admiring his Bastille Day military parade last summer and dinner under the stars at the Eiffel Tower.
“We have a very special relationship because both of us are probably the maverick of the systems on both sides,” Macron said Sunday.
The bonne amitié seems to be growing between the two leaders despite divergent political views on issues from the international role in Syria to climate change.
Macron “has broken the code when it comes to dealing with President Trump,” said Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.
“He has been, I think, the most successful in trying to convince the president to think through some very important issues … to France and to the European Union,” Conley added.
French and British warplanes joined the U.S. military in recent airstrikes on three alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria, a contribution that the White House was quick to applaud.
Trump’s relationship with Merkel has been less warm. Unlike in France, which has a semi-presidential system, Germany’s chancellor is not directly elected, so Europe’s longest-serving elected leader must act through compromise and coalition, messy concepts for Trump.
After the Iranian nuclear deal, trade will top Merkel’s agenda. She, Macron and other European leaders often express frustration that Trump, in his emphasis on bilateral trade agreements, displays a misunderstanding of how the European Union works.
Most trade and commerce must be handled through rules governing the 28-nation bloc, not individual member states.
Macron will get Trump’s first official state dinner, a formal affair Tuesday night at the White House. The Trumps also will dine with Macron and his wife, Brigitte, on Monday night in private at Mount Vernon in Virginia, the plantation home of George Washington, and Macron will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.
Most significant, perhaps, he will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, a rare honor. Invited by Republican congressional leadership, Macron will speak on the anniversary of President Charles de Gaulle’s historic speech to Congress in 1960.
The Francophile fanfare is a far cry from 2003, when Republican lawmakers, angry that France opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, ordered cafeterias on Capitol Hill to change offerings of French fries to Freedom fries, and French toast to Freedom toast.
Unlike Macron, the staid Merkel has never really gotten along with Trump. He openly mocked her on Germany’s decision to accept refugees flowing out of Syria.
Because she heads the largest economy in the European Union, Merkel will lobby Trump for exemptions to his plans to impose trade tariffs. Analysts say she has repeatedly pointed out to Trump that German investment in the U.S. is larger than the other way around — to the tune of $291 billion that creates 680,000 U.S. jobs.
“It is a clear sticking point,” said Jeffrey Rathke, a former State Department official who is a senior fellow at CSIS. “Anything that damages the [transatlantic] trading relationship has the potential to spiral out of control.”
Even Macron, for all his affinity for Trump, has few concrete accomplishments to cite from the relationship. He failed to stop Trump from pulling out of the Paris climate accord, and he views Russian President Vladimir Putin with alarm.
The Iran deal is likely to be the next major point of friction in U.S.-Europe relations.
French, German and British officials say they have been negotiating in good faith with their American counterparts on ways to improve what all agree is a flawed deal. But they also say they have little certainty of what Trump really wants or would accept.
Some of Trump’s major objections are time limits on some restrictions in the deal, so-called sunset clauses.
“Europe has spent the last 15 months muddling through, trying to understand what Trump’s actual policies are … and with limited success,” said Derek Chollet, a defense and security expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “The best you can say about U.S.- European relations now is that they’re extremely fragile.”
Staff writer Noah Bierman contributed to this report.