French President’s US visit: Message behind an “oak sapling”

Tuesday, 2018-04-24 12:34:15
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US President Donald Trump (R) meets French President Emmanuel Macron in New York, US on September 18, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – During his state visit to the United States which began on April 23, French President Emmanuel Macron brought an oak sapling as a gift for his peer Donald Trump. In the context of the complicated global situation and the multiple challenges faced by the France-US alliance, this special gift is aimed at conveying Paris’s message about fostering close-knit friendly ties with Washington.

It is not difficult to realise the special significance of this France-US high-level event. This is the first state visit to the US made by President Macron since President Trump became the boss of White House. At the same time, the visit of the Elysee Palace leader marks the first time President Trump has welcomed a foreign head of state by a state-level rite. And this is also a chance for Washington to respond to the sincerity offered by Paris to the US President during his visit to France last July.

The visit takes place as a number of striking occurrences are being seen around the world as well as in France-US relations, including the challenges stemming from the deadlines set by the White House leader, which have made the US’s relationships with its allies and partners more tense over recent times. In the matters of trade, President Trump announced a May 1 expiry on the exemption or imposition of tariffs on aluminum and steel products from the European Union (EU) countries. Concerning the Iranian nuclear deal, the US leader also set a May 12 deadline for the correction of the regulations, which are considered by Washington as the dangerious holes in this historic document.

The aforementioned decisions are awaiting announcement by President Trump. If the announcements are unfavourable to France, they will directly and negatively affect Paris’s interests. Thus, the main topics to be discussed during President Macron’s US trip will not lie outside the issues related to the US’s plan to impose taxes on aluminum and steel products, the future of the Iranian nuclear agreement, and the prospect of settling disputes in Syria, where both France and the US recently deployed military interventions.

France’s standpoints on the current issues of disturbance between the two sides were revealed by President Macron ahead of his departure for the US. In an interview granted to Fox News, the French leader emphasised the special relationship with his US counterpart Donald Trump, stating that the two sides shared similar views on anti-terrorism and many other areas. According to Macron, a trade war with allies will not bring about good results. He also expressed his belief that the talks in Washington would lead President Trump to issue a decision on the exemption of taxes from EU-originated aluminum and steel imports.

Regarding the Syrian issue, President Macron affirmed the pivotal role played by the US, whilst calling on the US and its allies to maintain their presence in Syria even after the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) are completely destroyed. According to the French leader, both the US and France, as well as their allies, need to play an important role in the future process of Syrian reconstruction. In terms of the Iranian nuclear deal, President Macron affirmed that Paris did not have a Plan B for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was signed between major powers and Iran in 2015. In order to persuade his US counterpart not to withdraw from the JCPOA, Macron pledged to back sanctions on Iran, while adding provisions in the aim of dealing with the missile and nuclear programmes as well as to restrain Iran’s influence in the region.

According to analysts, while it is yet to replace the UK as the no. 1 ally of the US, France has been emerging as a reliable partner in the context of the current obstacles in the relationship between the US and a number of its European allies. President Macron has been credited as the European leader with the most calls to the US President since they came to power. This partly reflects the mutual trust between leaders of the two allies. President Macron has also been said to be a leader skillfull in using soft diplomacy. And the young oak that he brings to the US as a gift for President Trump is the latest example.

Taken from the northern forests of France, where the first battle of the US military against the German troops took place nearly a century ago and which is seen as a symbol of the US assistance and solidarity with the French ally in World War I, the oak sapling that President Macron brings to the US carries a significant message. It both affirms France’s memorisation of the US’s support and contributions, and shows France’s aspiration to continue fostering the time-honoured alliance between the two countries. Paris’ goodwill is expected to contribute to facilitating the satisfactory settlement of the differences currently existing between the two sides.