French president’s frank comments come after Congress address in which he stood up for policies his US counterpart has sought to destroy
Julian Borger in Washington
Emmanuel Macron conceded he had probably failed in his attempt during a three-day trip to Washington to persuade Donald Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal, describing US flip-flopping on international agreements as “insane”.
The French president had hoped to convince Trump to continue to waive sanctions on Iran, as agreed by the 2015 nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to accept strict curbs on its nuclear activities. Macron offered Trump the prospect of negotiations on a new complementary deal that would address Iranian missile development and Tehran’s military intervention in the Middle East.
But speaking to US reporters before leaving Washington, Macron said: “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.”
Noting that Trump had also pulled the US out of the Paris climate change accord – another commitment of the Obama administration – Macron said such frequent changes in the US position on global issues “can work in the short term but it’s very insane in the medium to long term”.
The admissions come after a day of intimate fraternity with Trump, during which Macron made an impassioned speech in Washington advocating many of the things Trump has spent much of his presidency trying to destroy.
Over the course of a 50-minute address to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, the French president said he was “sure” the US would one day return to the Paris climate change accord, and vowed that France would not abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA)
More broadly, Macron presented himself to the US legislature as an unabashed advocate of the liberal world order of global institutions and free trade – the very opposite of the America First nationalism that fuelled Trump’s rise to the White House. The speech – delivered in English – was interrupted by frequent standing ovations, many from both sides of the aisle.
“We will not let the rampaging work of extreme nationalism shake a world full of hopes for greater prosperity,” Macron said. “It is a critical moment. If we do not act with urgency as a global community, I am convinced that the international institutions, including the United Nations and Nato, will no longer be able to exercise a mandate and stabilising influence.”
“Personally, if you ask me, I do not share the fascination for new strong powers, the abandonment of freedom and the illusion of nationalism,” Macron said, in remarks that could easily be seen as a rebuke for Trump’s enthusiasm for some of the world’s most autocratic “strongman” rulers.
Macron also made a full-throated argument for global action to combat climate change, built around the 2015 Paris accord, which Trump announced in June he was walking away from.
“What is the meaning of our life if we [are] destroying the planet while sacrificing the future of our children?” the French president asked. “Let us face it. There is no planet B.”
He said the rift over the Paris accord was but a “short-term disagreement”.
“In the long run, we will have to face the same reality that we are citizens of the same planet,” he added.
“I’m sure one day the United States will come back and join the Paris agreement,” Macron declared, to whoops and cheers from the Democratic ranks.
He had an even more direct rebuke for his host’s resort to tariffs as an instrument of trade policy. Macron said that the right way to correct trade imbalances and overcapacity was to negotiate through the World Trade Organisation.
“We wrote these rules. We should follow them,” the visiting president said.
On the Iran nuclear agreement, Macron repeated an idea he had promoted on Tuesday at a White House meeting with Trump for a “new deal” that would complement the 2015 accord with a broader remit to address Iranian ballistic missile development and its military role across the Middle East.
Iran, Macron said would “never possess any nuclear weapons” but he added: “This policy should never lead us to war in the Middle East.”
He called for respect for the sovereignty of Iran and its ancient civilisation, and urged the west not to “repeat past mistakes”, an apparent reference to the 2003 Iraq invasion.
Both the US and France endorsed the JCPOA, he pointed out, adding: “We should not abandon it without something more substantial in its place.”
In a tweet after his speech to Congress, Macron added: “We decided with President [Trump] to work on a new comprehensive deal” which would address Iranian missiles and its regional role, and make limits on Iranian nuclear activities permanent.
On Tuesday, Trump had stopped short of voicing support for Macron’s idea of a supplemental agreement, or set of agreements, on non-nuclear issues but had suggested he might at least reconsidering his vow to abrogate the JCPOA by declining to extend sanctions relief when presidential waivers falls due on 12 May.
With their president in an apparent state of flux, US officials gave mixed messages on the US position on the JCPOA on Wednesday.
The head of the state department planning office, Brian Hook, disparaged the nuclear agreement.
“It has no signatures. It has no legal status. It is a political commitment by an administration that is no longer in office,” Hook told National Public Radio, although the JCPOA is enshrined in a UN security council resolution.
In Geneva on the same day, the assistant secretary for international security, Christopher Ford, said: “We are not aiming to renegotiate the JCPOA or reopen it or change its terms,” seemingly in clear contradiction of multiple presidential statements.