WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump faces a European double bill this week as a deadline looms for deciding whether the U.S. will 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 agreement Tehran may respond by resuming and intensifying its nuclear program.
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 problems — Iran and North Korea — are coming to a head in simultaneously.
Trump has said he would to scrap the Iran accord unless co-signatories France, Germany and Britain can “fix” it. Unless revisions are made, he said he would not sign another wavier 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 nuclear arsenal. On Sunday, Trump uncharacteristically sought to downplay expectations of the proposed summit. “Only time will tell,” he posted on Twitter.
U.S. and European diplomats have been looking for 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 said Friday. Macron and Merkel will try to persuade Trump not to renege on the deal.
Macron, who arrives Monday for a three-day 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 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 relationship seems to be growing between the two leaders despite divergent political views on issues like the international role in Syria and climate change.
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 France, Germany operates on a parliamentary system, and so Europe’s longest-serving elected leader must act through compromise and coalition, messy concepts for Trump.
After the Iran 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 state dinner Tuesday night at the White House. The Trumps also will dine with Macron and his wife Brigitte Monday night in private with the Trumps 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 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 for 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.