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Smiles replace grimaces as Macron welcomes Trump to Paris

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Donald Trump to Paris on Thursday with a warm handshake and smiles, a contrast to the clenched-jaw greeting they shared at their first meeting in May.

“Emmanuel, nice to see you. This is so beautiful,” the U.S. president told Macron as they met at the Hotel des Invalides where Napoleon Bonaparte and other French war heroes are buried.

Patting Trump on the back several times, the French president smiled as they began a tour of the grand 17th century military complex.

Macron and Trump were scheduled to hold talks lasting an hour and a half before dining with their wives at a restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower.

After a bumpy start, both have incentives to improve relations – Macron hoping to elevate France’s role in global affairs, and Trump, seemingly isolated among world leaders, needing a friend overseas.

Trump comes to France beset by allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, with emails released on Tuesday suggesting his eldest son welcomed an offer of Russian help against his father’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Weeks after Macron hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Palace of Versailles, Trump will bask in the trappings of the Bastille Day military parade on Friday and commemorations of the entry 100 years ago of U.S. troops into World War One.

For the 39-year-old Macron, France’s youngest leader since Napoleon two centuries ago, the visit is a chance to use soft diplomacy to win Trump’s confidence and set about influencing U.S. foreign policy, which European leaders say lacks direction.

Macron views it as counter-productive to isolate the United States on the world stage, and progress may be made on joint approaches to counter-terrorism and security.

But any breakthrough on trickier issues such as Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate change deal and his “America First” trade policy are unlikely.

What Emmanuel Macron wants to do is bring Trump back into the circle so that the United States, which remains the world’s number one power, is not excluded,” French government spokesman Christophe Castaner told BFM TV.

Middle East and Africa

The July 14 celebrations come a year after a Tunisian man loyal to Islamic State plowed a truck through revelers on a seafront promenade in Nice, killing more than 80.

During the U.S. election campaign, Trump said a wave of militant attacks showed “France is no longer France”, urging a tougher stance on immigration and terrorism.

The Elysee official said the intended symbolism of dinner at the Eiffel Tower was that “Paris is still Paris”.

The presidents will discuss the civil war in Syria, where Islamic State is defending its last major urban stronghold of Raqqa, and counter-terrorism.

“Macron has said before that military action is not enough, we have to plan for development and stabilization,” an Elysee official said.

Beyond the Middle East, Macron will press Trump for more support in financing a new West African military force to battle militants in the Sahel, where France wants to wind down its troop presence, the official said.

In bringing Trump to Paris, Macron has stolen a march on Britain’s embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.

London’s offer of a state visit for Trump met fierce criticism and warnings that he would be greeted by mass protests.

An Elabe poll showed that 59 percent of French people approved of Macron’s decision to invite Trump.

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