ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
All over Washington, France's flag is flying between the U.S. flag and the flag of the District of Columbia. President Trump is hosting the first official state visit of his presidency - something he's waited more than a year to do. That's unusual for a U.S. president. French President Emmanuel Macron arrived this afternoon at Joint Base Andrews.
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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: Hello, everyone. This is a great honor and, I think, a very important state visit given the moment of our current environment.
SHAPIRO: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is here to tell us more about the visit. Hi, Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hi.
SHAPIRO: Take us back to their first visit because, initially, President Trump and Emmanuel Macron did not really hit it off, right?
RASCOE: Yeah, so this is the first state dinner. And that's a big honor for a visiting foreign leader, but you're right. Their first meeting did not go so well. This was at the NATO summit in Brussels last May, and they had this very intense, white-knuckled handshake. And even afterwards, Macron said in an interview about the handshake that it was not, quote, "innocent." And so that got a lot of attention and not really good - in a good way.
SHAPIRO: So if we're looking at how the relationship changed over time, a key pivot point seems to be President Trump and first lady Melania Trump's visit to Paris last July. Tell us about what happened there.
RASCOE: Yeah, so Macron invited Trump to visit Paris last July, and he really rolled out the red carpet for the Trumps. They had dinner at the Eiffel Tower. And President Trump was the guest of honor at the Bastille Day parade, which really impressed Trump. And he's planning to try to have something similar in the U.S...
RASCOE: ...This year. So even though they're opposites in many ways - Macron and Trump - they do appreciate a good show and the way things look. So they were able to connect on that.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about how they're opposites in many ways because, politically and policy-wise, they disagree on a whole range of things.
RASCOE: They're really very different. So President Trump is the oldest U.S. president elected to his first term. Macron is the youngest French leader since Napoleon. President Trump was elected as a populist running an America-first agenda, whereas Macron is a centrist. And he really supports international cooperation. So in many ways, their policies are really polar opposites.
SHAPIRO: How do you expect that to play out during this week's state visit here in Washington?
RASCOE: Well, many of the topics that they're going to have to discuss - the Iran nuclear deal, Syria - these are issues where France and the U.S. have not been on the same page. And so they're going to have to deal with that. On Syria, France did join Britain and the U.S. in launching airstrikes against the Syrian government after a suspected chemical attack. But afterwards, Macron said that he had convinced Trump to keep U.S. troops in Syria - something that the White House quickly pushed back on. Macron also wants the United States to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
That's something that President Trump has said he's not inclined to do, and there's a deadline on that next month. So there is some risk here for Macron. he doesn't want to look like he is putting all this investment into his relationship with Trump and not really getting much in return. So one of the key questions will be whether this relationship will actually lead to any substantive actions on the part of France and the U.S.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, the newest member of our White House reporting team. Good to have you here. Thanks so much.
RASCOE: Thanks so much for having me.
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