By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
WASHINGTON (AP) — With Iran and a list of other tough issues awaiting them, President Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron are starting off the French president’s three-day visit with an anything-but-ordinary double date with their wives at George Washington’s house.
The presidents and their spouses will get together for a private dinner at Mount Vernon, Washington’s historic riverside home, one night before the two leaders sit down for talks on matters including security, trade and the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump has been itching to pull out of the multinational nuclear agreement as a May 12 deadline nears. Macron says he is not satisfied with the situation in Iran and thinks the agreement is imperfect, but has argued for the U.S. sticking with the deal on the grounds that there is not yet a “Plan B.”
The private dinner kicks off a pageantry-filled visit to Washington for Macron, the honored guest at Tuesday’s first state dinner of the Trump administration.
The couples were to plant a tree on the White House grounds before boarding Trump’s Marine One helicopter for a scenic tour of monuments built in a city designed by a French-born engineer as they fly south to Mount Vernon, the first U.S. president’s home along the Potomac River.
A seat aboard Marine One is a rare presidential perk that underscores how much Trump wants to woo the first foreign leader he has invited to the U.S. on a state visit.
“This is a great honor and I think a very important state visit given the moment of our current environment,” Macron said after his plane landed at a U.S. military base near Washington.
Of everything Macron has accomplished in nearly a year as France’s president, the most important may be his tough-love friendship with Trump that began with a bone-squeezing handshake and most recently included Macron’s claim that he persuaded Trump to bomb Syria after an alleged chemical weapons attack against civilians.
Macron calls Trump often, leading some to refer to him as the “Trump Whisperer.” But Macron calculates that it’s smarter and safer to talk to the impulsive U.S. president than to isolate him.
Macron will be welcomed back to the White House on Tuesday with a traditional arrival ceremony put on by nearly 500 members of the U.S. military, including a booming 21-gun salute. The state visit also offers Macron his first Oval Office sit-down with Trump and a joint White House news conference. There’s also a State Department lunch hosted by Vice President Mike Pence.
The French president’s White House day will be capped with the state dinner, the highest social tribute a president bestows on an ally and partner.
Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, has played an active role in every detail of the visit, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The first lady settled on a menu of rack of lamb and nectarine tart, along with after-dinner entertainment provided by the Washington National Opera for about 150 guests. On Monday, she released details of the glitzy affair being planned to dazzle Macron and his wife, Brigitte.
Dinner will be served in the State Dining Room, which will feature more than 2,500 stems of white sweet pea flowers and nearly 1,000 stems of white lilac. Separately, more than 1,200 branches of cherry blossoms grown in the United States will adorn the majestic Cross Hall.
The first lady opted for a cream-and-gold color scheme, and will use a mix of china services from the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Trump ended his first year in office without receiving a foreign leader on a state visit, making him the first president in nearly 100 years to fail to do so. He was Macron’s guest last July at the annual military parade in the center of Paris. Macron and his wife also took Trump and the first lady on a tour of Napoleon’s tomb and whisked them up into the Eiffel Tower for dinner overlooking the City of Light.
State dinner tickets are highly sought after by Washington’s political and business elite. A few inklings of who’s in and who’s out already are known: Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund and a former top French government official, is in, as are House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
In a break with tradition, Trump invited no congressional Democrats or journalists, said a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the arrangements publicly. But some Democrats did make the cut, including Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, whose office confirmed his attendance.