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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Emmanuel Macron wins over Donald Trump as Bastille Day celebrations wow 

Mr Macron’s fleet-footed diplomacy has hoisted Paris ahead of Berlin and London in the race for Mr Trump’s ear

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and U.S. President Donald Trump attend the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)
French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and U.S. President Donald Trump attend the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

Donald Trump toyed with but abandoned the idea of holding a military parade at his inauguration earlier this year.

The marching bands, tanks on parade, horses clipping across the tarmac and military jets swooping overhead were laid on for the French celebration of Bastille Day on Friday. Mr Trump, the guest of President Emmanuel Macron, revelled in the spectacle.

American and French aircraft participated in a flyover comprised of 49 French Air Force, six French Navy and eight US Air Force planes.

As the parade drew to a close, the two men engaged in yet another long personal encounter that appeared to show a need to establish supremacy over the other. In front of French tricolour and standing on the cobblestones, they shook hands, rubbed each others shoulders and even drew in Brigitte Macron into a three-way embrace. Melania Trump, the first lady, looked on puzzled and the presidents eventually relaxed their grip.

For the Paris trip was about commemorating a momentous moment of the two countries shared history. A century before America had ended its young nation’s isolation and entered the war in Europe as an ally of France and Britain.

“In 1917, the United States of America, this great country and friend of France, defending the liberty of nations, took the decision to go to war by our side,” declared the official programme of the day. “One hundred years later, I wanted to have the American forces parade alongside our soldiers, our sailors and our aviators, with whom they are engaged daily in many theatres of operations.”

Headlines were hostile to Mr Trump in the French papers. The leftish Liberation declared: Pariah in Paris. But overall Mr Macron won the gamble that the visit would be seen as a success.

Protests against the US leader were sporadic, not as all consuming as those in Hamburg, where Mr Trump attended the G20 earlier in the month. The main demonstration in Paris was entitled “Don’t let your guard down against Trump.”

The US Republican president’s rivals, Democrats Abroad were also visible and staged a small gathering in central Paris.

“This was not a protest of the fact that Donald Trump came to Paris,” Sally Swartz, an organiser, said. “It was to show that the Democrats are alive and well and that we actively oppose the policies and the bills he’s trying to get through Congress.”

The spectacle in Paris was a welcome excursion for a US leader who himself claims to be weathering category 5 hurricane of scandal and political protest.

As he flew home, a US television channel NBC News added to his woes by reporting a meeting between his son, Donald Jr, and Russians promising to handover dirt on Hillary Clinton was attended by a former Soviet counter-intelligence official, who is now a US citizen.

NBC News did not name the ex-agent but described the figure as a lobbyist who had denied any current ties to Russian spy agencies. The lobbyist accompanied Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer to a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with the younger Trump, a senior White House aide and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the then campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Reporting of the Trump trip by the US networks noted that the scandal hung over the visit “like a cloud”.

"It's called opposition research or even research into your opponent. I've only been in politics for two years. But I've had many people call up, 'oh gee, we have information on this factor or this person or frankly, Hillary,'" said Mr. Trump said at a late night press conference alongside Mr Macron in Paris. “My son is a wonderful man”.

The American leader gave mixed signals one of the aspects of the Macron talks. The French leader urged his US counterpart to reverse on his drive to pull out of the global warming agreement, the Paris Accord.

At the press conference, he appeared to acknowledge his host had softened his opposition.

“Yes, I mean, something could happen with respect to the Paris Accord. We'll see what happens,” he said.

However at a briefing for reporters on Air Force One as he flew to Paris, Mr Trump was unequivocal about the deal and his attachment to the fossil fuel-based economy.

“We’ve got underneath us more oil than anybody, and nobody knew it until five years ago,” a White House transcript said. “And I want to use it. And I don’t want that taken away by the Paris Accord.”

It is less than three months since Mr Macron captured the French presidency after a campaign as audacious as that ran by Mr Trump in 2016 in the US.

After four meetings it is clear that their relationship is a complicated mix of rapport and rivalry. Second guessing how it shapes the fate of trans-Atlantic is set to become a major industry. What is clear is that Mr Macron’s fleet-footed diplomacy has hoisted Paris ahead of Berlin and London in the race for Mr Trump’s ear.

At the end of the parade there was a departure from the usual parade of patriotic tunes and rigid formations. The military band broke into a trumpet-led medley of Daft Punk hits.

It was hard to divine if Mr Trump was puzzled or pleased.

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