LA MALBAIE, Quebec (Reuters) - It was only six weeks ago when U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron grinned, laughed, and hugged their way through a state visit in Washington, showing all the signs of two leaders with a genuine friendship.
But at the G7 summit in Canada, the physical bonhomie between the two leaders was pared back, signalling tensions that boiled over publicly just before the meeting.
Unable to persuade Trump to consider ways to stay in the Iran nuclear deal, and stung by U.S. tariffs on European steel and aluminium, Macron appeared to be recalibrating his approach to Trump.
“I think Macron has had some very hard lessons in terms of how far flattery can get you,” said Julie Smith, a former national security aide in the Obama administration.
Trump’s escalation of tensions with allies was “beyond shortsighted,” said Heather Conley, a former U.S. State Department official in the George W. Bush administration.
“When we’re at war with our allies, if we need something, we don’t have them to turn to,” said Conley, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “I think this is the part that the White House is underappreciating.”
Leading up to the G7 summit, Macron tweeted his displeasure with Trump over the tariffs, and Trump tweeted back, complaining about European trade measures.
But as cameras rolled, they downplayed the divisions. “We have little tests every once in a while when it comes to trade,” Trump said, expressing optimism without details that “something is going to happen” on that front.
The leaders were supposed to meet in the morning. But Trump was more than an hour delayed in leaving Washington, which meant the meeting had to be pushed back for the end of the day.
Trump pulled Macron aside for a quick chat on their way into the summit and Macron posted the pleasantries on Twitter.
When the two leaders finally met late in the day, Macron was first to reach out to shake Trump’s hand and the last to let go, gripping it so tight his fingers left white marks - a reprise of the long, exaggerated handshake that marked the first meeting between the two leaders last year.
The two leaders bonded after Macron invited Trump to Paris for the Bastille Day military parade. Trump returned the honour, inviting Macron for a state visit in April.
“It looked like he had cracked the code,” said Smith, now with the Center for a New American Security in Washington.
But the friendship failed to keep Trump from leaving the Iran nuclear deal, a decision that will have major implications for French businesses wary of triggering U.S. sanctions on business with Tehran.
Nor did it keep Trump from slapping stiff tariffs on imports on European steel and aluminium, a decision taken last week.
Macron occasionally flashed a tight grin as Trump spoke, and winked once, describing their talks as “very direct and open.”
“I want to say sometimes we disagree, but we share I’d say common concerns and common values and we share the willingness to deliver results together,” Macron said.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Andreas Rinke; editing by Grant McCool