PARIS (AP) Jul. 12, 2017 — President Donald Trump's visit to Paris on Thursday will take him to a city he has repeatedly derided — and at the side of a French leader best known to Americans as the earnest young man with the endless handshake.
"Paris isn't Paris any longer," Trump declared in February, implying the city had been ruined by jihadi attacks. "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," he said just last month as he announced the U.S. would leave the Paris climate agreement.
But Trump isn't the only politician who can use Paris to make a symbolic point.
When Trump arrives in the French capital, it will be as French President Emmanuel Macron's guest of honor, with a private tour of Napoleon's tomb, dinner at the Eiffel Tower and, to top off the Paris tourist trifecta, a seat at the tribune as American troops open the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Elysees.
He departed the White House on Wednesday evening, joined by his wife, first lady Melania Trump, and top aides, including chief of staff Reince Priebus and National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster.
Still, Macron extended an invitation to Trump to join the national day celebrations, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. And the meetings on Thursday have been billed by both governments as a time to deepen the ties that bind the U.S. and France.
"What our two countries share is stronger (than our differences), given our peoples and our histories and our values as well. So yes, there is a disagreement, like I said to President Trump, and then I said it publicly, because there is nothing to hide. That being said, it does not prevent us from cooperating in many fields," Macron said Saturday.
Thursday's talks are expected to center on fighting terrorism and defense policy, two areas where French-American cooperation has traditionally been strong.
There is little downside for Macron.
"It's important to establish a relationship that is functional, for both Mr. Macron and Mr. Trump, to know where the other stands, so they can speak to each other, to facilitate trans-Atlantic relations," said Yannick Mireur, a political scientist who follows U.S. politics.
Macron supports intervention against Syria's government in response to its use of chemical weapons and could prove an important ally as the Trump administration seeks to increase pressure against Damascus. But in doing so, they'll need to tackle the issue of Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, something Trump has only passively acknowledged.
The visit will also gauge whether Trump and Macron can find consensus on any of the critical issues on which they openly disagree. After Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, Macron, a staunch advocate of research to combat global warming, urged "all responsible citizens," including American scientists and researchers, to bring their fight against climate change to France.
Macron became France's youngest president when he won a runoff against far-right opponent Marine Le Pen in April. Despite no political experience, he pulled together an overwhelming legislative majority in France's parliament and recent polls show him with strong public popularity.
Merkel, as it happens, will also be meeting Macron on Thursday — both she and Trump will converge on the French presidential palace within hours of each other. But Merkel will be gone before they can cross paths.