Political News

Climate remains a rift amid Trump-Macron friendship

Posted September 19

During talks that lasted just under an hour Monday, President Donald Trump and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, exchanged compliments and affirmations of a friendship forged through white-knuckled handshakes and an intimate dinner atop the Eiffel Tower.

But Macron also informed Trump at his disappointment in the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, a landmark 2015 agreement signed in the French capital that compels almost every nation on earth to reduce its carbon emissions.

Trump, according to people familiar with the meeting, was defiant, insisting the package that his predecessor Barack Obama agreed to was deeply unfair to US interests and, perhaps worse, favorable to China, his longtime rhetorical foil.

But even if there was little doubt during the meeting that his position on the agreement has remained unchanged, there were signs the President has not written off entirely the global effort to combat climate change.

"I do think that there is an agreement on the priorities," said Brian Hook, the State Department's director of policy planning who is traveling with Trump this week to the UN talks. "He doesn't think that the Paris Agreement is the best vehicle to achieve the priorities around protecting the environment because it advantages other countries, especially China, more than it helps the United States."

But, Hook said, Trump "is very open to considering a number of different options, as long as they are fair to America's interests."

Anticipation and unease

At the United Nations this week, Trump has been met with a mixture of anticipation and unease, a bomb-throwing longtime neighbor who now represents the body's most powerful and wealthiest member state. But perhaps on no other issue has Trump separated himself from the collection of world leaders and diplomats here than on climate change, which the UN has adopted as a central cause over the past decade.

This year, leaders gathered inside the body's headquarters are contending with massive Atlantic storms that have devastated Caribbean islands and parts of Texas and Florida -- even as the Trump administration has steadfastly refused to discuss the effects climate change may have on hurricanes. And in meetings on the sidelines, Trump administration envoys have been explicit in the White House's plans to withdraw from the Paris deal unless more favorable terms can be struck.

That's not a shift in position from June, when Trump announced his was triggering a four-year withdraw mechanism unless he could renegotiate a better deal. But rhetorically, the option of finding a way back into the agreement has emerged with more prominence this week as Trump engages in rapid-pace diplomacy with world leaders.

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Macron said he would continue to lobby Trump to return to the climate accord.

"I do regret this decision, and I do want to convince him to come back to this agreement because for me that's the core agreement for climate," Macron told Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent.

When Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly a day after meeting Macron on Monday, the issue of climate change didn't merit a single mention from Trump. He has no meetings scheduled to specifically address the matter during his four-day stay in New York, leaving instead his top economic adviser Gary Cohn to discuss the issue with climate ministers.

During a breakfast meeting with climate ministers on Monday, Cohn reaffirmed Trump's plans to withdraw from the agreement. But he did note that better terms for the United States could merit a return to the deal.

"It's up to the US to determine what it's going to do," Canadian climate minister Catherine McKenna said. "We were disappointed."

Trump similarly did not lay out specific parameters for reentering the Paris deal during his Monday meeting with Macron. But he did reach agreement with the French leader on continuing a conversation about climate issues.

Burgeoning relationship

For Macron, the issue presents a sticking point in a burgeoning relationship with Trump, one he's actively fostered since taking office in May. Macron invited Trump to Paris in July to witness the yearly Bastille Day parade, an attempt at solidifying a transatlantic partnership between two new leaders who, outwardly, have little in common.

Macron, 39, was the youngest president elected in France in the modern era, while Trump, 71, was the oldest in US history. Macron ran on a centrist platform against a nationalist firebrand who Trump essentially endorsed.

While Macron and Trump have found areas of agreement on issues like Syria and counterterrorism, on climate they remain opposed. At their first meeting in May, Trump and Macron shared a long and uncomfortable-looking handshake, which Macron said afterward was intentional. During those talks, Macron pressed Trump to remain the Paris accord, which at the time was the topic of intense White House deliberations.

When Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Paris pact, Macron dinged the US President by mimicking his campaign slogan when encouraging French citizens to "Make the Planet Great Again."

Now in office, Macron hopes to act as a European emissary to Washington at a moment when the continent's leaders are consumed with internal political affairs. British Prime Minister Theresa May is sorting through a messy divorce from the European Union, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is completing her run for a fourth term. She remained home this week during the annual UN summit in New York.

When Trump visited Paris at Macron's invitation in July, the two leaders spent an inordinate amount of time together, sitting for talks but also touring Parisian historic sites and dining at Le Jules Verne restaurant, perched on the second landing of the Eiffel Tower.

"President Trump considers President Macron a very, very good friend," Hook said. "They actually spent the first part of their meeting reminiscing about the President's trip to France and talked at length about the Bastille Day Parade and celebrating America's oldest alliance."

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