France's Emmanuel Macron invited to address US Congress in April

Macron and his wife Brigitte attend a ceremony at the French Institute in Paris, March 20, 2018.
Macron and his wife Brigitte attend a ceremony at the French Institute in Paris, March 20, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron will address the US Congress when he visits Washington next month (April 2018) on a high-profile trip held against the backdrop of rising transatlantic trade tensions.

Macron's two-day state visit will be the first by a foreign leader since Donald Trump assumed the presidency last year.

"France is not only our oldest ally, but one of our strongest," Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Wednesday (March 21).

"I look forward to welcoming President Macron to the United States Capitol to address a joint meeting of Congress on April 25."

Trump, who will host Macron at the White House on April 24, extended the invitation in January after he was hosted by the French leader for the Bastille Day national holiday - when he was impressed by the traditional military parade on the Champs-Elysees.

Although Trump and Macron have met several times and professed good relations, they disagree on a range of fundamental issues, not least Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris agreement on fighting climate change.

But the strategic relationship remains strong, and Macron recently expressed his vocal support for Trump's decision to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Ryan called Macron's address to Congress "a special opportunity to build on the historic relationship between our countries, and to reaffirm our commitment to defeating terror both domestically and around the world."

TRADE WAR WARNING

With the exception of Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande, every French president since Charles de Gaulle has addressed the US Congress.

The honor - reserved for the leaders of America's close allies - began on December 10, 1824, when France's Marquis de Lafayette spoke in the House chamber.

The last foreign leader to address members of the House of Representatives and the Senate was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2016.

In 1976, France's president Valery Giscard d'Estaing delivered his address in English.

A generation later in 2007, with US-French ties frayed by the Iraq war, it was Nicolas Sarkozy who came to Congress to reassure US lawmakers of the transatlantic friendship.

"In times of difficulty, in times of hardship, America and France have always stood side by side," Sarkozy said.

Macron's visit comes at a time of escalating tensions over trade.

The US leader's recent announcement of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports - due to take effect this week - has riled Europe, with Macron warning that his American counterpart risked provoking a mutually destructive "trade war."

In rolling out the measures, Trump had tweeted his displeasure with European nations, calling them "wonderful countries who treat the US very badly on trade."

The United States and the European Union agreed Wednesday to a fresh round talks to seek a "mutually acceptable" solution on the tariffs, following talks in Washington between Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and visiting EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.

An earlier round of talks in Brussels had failed to provide clarity on how Europe might be spared.