First the niceties, then the French rebuke of America First

French President Emmanuel Macron meeting students at George Washington University on Wednesday in Washington. Mr Macron argued for preserving the Iran nuclear deal in a speech to the US Congress.
French President Emmanuel Macron meeting students at George Washington University on Wednesday in Washington. Mr Macron argued for preserving the Iran nuclear deal in a speech to the US Congress.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • One day after Mr Emmanuel Macron and Mr Donald Trump showered each other with praise, the French President spoke more critically of his US counterpart's policies in a speech to the US Congress that amounted to an implicit rebuke of Mr Trump's "America First" approach.

Mr Macron, who travelled to Washington this week hoping to persuade the US President not to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, reiterated his argument for preserving the deal even as he said he and Mr Trump had decided to pursue "a more comprehensive deal" to restrain Teheran.

The French President used his speech in the House chamber on Wednesday to urge Mr Trump not to shrink from the leadership role the US had played in forging the pact that Mr Trump on Tuesday called "insane" and "ridiculous" - in the first place.

"We signed it," Mr Macron said of the nuclear deal with Iran, raising a finger for emphasis, "at the initiative of the United States". "We signed it - both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that."

Mr Macron acknowledged that the deal had not addressed crucial concerns, including future nuclear activities in Iran, the use of ballistic missiles and the country's destabilising activities in the region.

"But we should not abandon it without having something substantial, and more substantial, instead," he added.

PRESERVING MULTILATERALISM

The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism... You are the one now who has to help to preserve and reinvent it.

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON, arguing that it is up to the US to preserve the international order it helped to create.

Mr Macron was greeted warmly with a three-minute standing ovation, and he drew several more ovations throughout his speech as he outlined his vision of global affairs and the alliance between the US and France, in nearly flawless English.

He attacked nationalism and argued that it was up to the US to preserve the international order it had helped to create.

"The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism," he said. "You are the one now who has to help to preserve and reinvent it."

Mr Macron implicitly denounced Mr Trump's decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminium. He also railed against inaction in the face of global climate change, using what has come to be his catchphrase for why the Paris climate accord - from which Mr Trump has withdrawn - must be preserved.

"Let us face it: There is no Planet B," the French leader said.

Mr Macron "solidified his standing as leader of the West (to the extent there still is a West) by his call today before Congress for an updated liberal world order to meet regional, global challenges," tweeted Dr Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a doyen of the Washington policy establishment.

"His problem is a lack of partners in Europe and here in US."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2018, with the headline 'First the niceties, then the French rebuke of America First'. Print Edition | Subscribe