One of French President Emmanuel Macron’s top priorities for his official state visit to the US this week was to persuade the US to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
But in a sit-down interview with reporters on Wednesday evening, Macron admitted that his mission was probably a failure.
“My view — I don’t know what your president will decide — is that he will get rid of this deal on his own for domestic reasons,” Macron told reporters at George Washington University, shortly before heading back to France.
His comments were a bit surprising because during his visit to Washington, he and President Trump seemed incredibly chummy. Their public appearances were full of back-slapping, hugging, kissing, hand-holding, and one particularly strange incident involving dandruff.
At one point, Trump literally referred to Macron as “perfect.” All of this suggested that Macron’s charm offensive on behalf of the Iran deal might have had a shot at working.
But the Wednesday interview indicates that the French president isn’t very optimistic. Macron said he believes the US will decide to impose “very tough sanctions” after pulling out of the deal on May 12, which is the deadline for renewing the Iran deal as required by US law.
It’s really hard to tell what Trump is going to do next
Publicly, Trump has sent somewhat mixed signals on where he stands on the Iran deal recently. On Tuesday morning, he derided the deal as a “ridiculous” agreement that gives away too much to Tehran. But later that day, after Macron floated the idea of putting together a “new deal” that expands the terms of the agreement, Trump suggested the US could “be flexible” on the issue.
The unbridgeable gap between the two men, judging from Macron’s most recent comments, is over whether to stay in the current deal while negotiating a new agreement — or just pull out right away. Trump, who has frequently referred to the agreement as “the worst deal ever,” seems intent on exiting the agreement — a signature accomplishment of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
That being said, Trump has had opportunities to tear up the Iran deal in the past and has backed off. In the past, a number of his advisers, like Defense Secretary James Mattis, have counseled him to stay in the deal because Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement and because the collapse of the agreement could give Iran a better chance at developing nuclear weapons than ever before, as the US’s allies will be reluctant to reimpose sanctions.
Macron, for his part, is wasting no time in laying out his public opposition to Trump pulling out of the deal. During a Wednesday morning speech to a joint session of Congress, Macron vociferously defended the nuclear deal, saying, “We should not abandon it without having something ... more substantial instead.”
Later that day, he told reporters that Trump’s willingness to withdraw from the Iran deal, and other international agreements like the Paris climate accord, is “very insane in the medium to long term.”
Despite this heated rhetoric, Macron seems to believe that he still might have a chance to move Trump on the Iran issue. “I want to be the honest broker of the situation,” he said on Wednesday evening. We’ll see if he’s right.