Macron calls U.S. to action; pacts’ future among his top concerns

Posted: April 26, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

With Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan standing behind him, French President Emmanuel Macron addresses Congress on Wednesday. “This is a time of determination and courage,” he told lawmakers.

WASHINGTON -- French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday delivered an impassioned call for multilateralism and U.S. engagement in the world, saying it was "an essential part of our confidence in the future."

Speaking to a joint meeting of Congress, amid frequent standing ovations and cheers, Macron recalled the long history of U.S.-French relations and the countries' shared values and culture in areas as diverse as democracy and freedom, human and civil rights, literature, jazz and the "Me Too" movement.

But, he warned, "this is a time of determination and courage. What we cherish is at stake. What we love is in danger. We have no choice but to prevail. And together we shall prevail."

Speaking almost directly to President Donald Trump, Macron quickly turned to the top issues of the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris accord on climate change and free trade -- topics where he and Trump disagree -- as he urged the United States not to retreat from its historic and military role in world affairs.

With a nod to great American leaders, including former President Franklin Roosevelt, he warned against withdrawing from the world in fear.

"We have two possible ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears," he said. "But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world."

He proposed a "new breed of militarism" that was more effective, accountable and results-oriented. "This requires more than ever the United States' involvement," he said.

At times during the nearly hourlong speech, delivered in English, he took turns playing into his friendly relationship with Trump, while nudging, forcefully at times, against their differences.

He reiterated French support for U.S. sanctions on Pyongyang toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and said that as for Iran, "our objective is clear: Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now. Not in five years. Not in 10 years. Never."

But he warned against simply abandoning the multination Iran nuclear deal, as Trump has considered, promoting a "more comprehensive deal" that he has been discussing with White House officials during his U.S. visit.

"We signed it," Macron said of the 2015 accord, raising a finger for emphasis, "at the initiative of the United States. We signed it -- both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that."

Macron later told French reporters that he has no "inside information" on Trump's decision on the Iran deal but noted that it's clear the U.S. president "is not very much eager to defend it."

In a nod to what Trump calls "Fake News," Macron in his speech warned that lies disseminated online are threatening freedoms worldwide, and in a play on Trump's famous campaign slogan, Macron said he was confident the U.S. will re-join the Paris climate agreement.

"Let us work together in order to make our planet great again," he said, "and create new jobs and new opportunities while safeguarding our earth." If Earth's climate continues to warm, he added, "there is no Planet B."

He said he believed U.S. and French disagreement on the climate issue was "short term" and that "in the long run, we will have to face the same realities. We're just citizens of the same planet."

Macron also implicitly denounced Trump's decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, saying the solution to the challenges of global trade was not "massive deregulation and extreme nationalism."

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"Commercial war is not the proper answer," Macron said. "At the end of the day, it will destroy jobs, increase prices, and the middle class will have to pay for it."

Problems should be solved, he said, by negotiating at the World Trade Organization, an institution that Trump recently called "a disaster" that enforces global trade rules.

"We wrote these rules," Macron said. "We should follow them."

While the independent centrist president was well-received Wednesday by members of Congress -- including Republicans, who have not always aligned with French leaders on policy -- he does not always receive such a robust welcome at home.

In France, Macron is currently criticized more from the left than the right, notably for ending France's famed worker protection, and he is often derided as the president of the rich.

LAWMAKERS' APPLAUSE

Macron's cross-party appeal in the U.S. was palpable from the moment he walked into the chamber -- lawmakers did not appear to mind that he was running about 20 minutes late.

Members of both parties beamed, hooted and leaped to their feet more than two dozen times as Macron praised the U.S.-French partnership and endorsed the Trump administration's efforts to launch denuclearization talks with North Korea.

But Macron began to lose the Republicans in the chamber when he spoke at length about the environment, criticizing those who prioritize short-term economic gains over the long-term health of the planet.

Democrats were alone in cheering his efforts to balance economic and environmental concerns, while only a few moderate Republicans, such as Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Elise Stefanik of New York, applauded his hope that the United States would rejoin the Paris agreement.

Democrats were generally swifter to applaud Macron's observations on trade than Republicans, for whom certain gestures of approval mean crossing Trump's. His observation that Western countries should "not create new walls" also struck a chord with Democrats, but not Republicans.

Nonetheless, top members of both parties heartily applauded Macron after his 50-minute speech, and several rank-and-file members gathered in the well of the House chamber to introduce themselves and offer their congratulations.

Only one member of the top congressional brass was noticeably missing: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. A spokesman for Schumer said the leader had a scheduling conflict.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also attended the speech.

Macron followed a long line of heads of state to address a joint session, from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941 to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016.

The French leader noted that his speech to lawmakers fell on the 58th anniversary of the last time a French leader spoke to lawmakers, when President Charles de Gaulle visited Washington in 1960. Although Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that such a "great honor" was "seldom allowed," more than 100 leaders have appeared before a joint session since Churchill.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Lederman, Lisa Mascaro, Alan Fram, Laurie Kellman, Angela Charlton and Sylvie Corbet of The Associated Press; by Karen DeYoung and Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post; and by Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times.

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A Section on 04/26/2018