TAORMINA, Italy (Reuters) - Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump on paper have little in common, but when the two leaders left a Group of Seven summit in Sicily on Saturday, France’s president had clearly warmed to his unpredictable American counterpart.
Uncomfortable moments in Brussels at a NATO summit on Thursday when each man appeared to battle for the firmest handshake award set the tone for a potential clash when the two sat down for the more in-depth informal talks in Italy.
But with Macron seeking to cement his presidential status less than a month after his election victory and to ensure a no-mistakes policy just three weeks before a crucial legislative vote at home, the 39-year-old clearly took a different approach to some of the other leaders.
The mantra was to charm and listen rather than confront the 70-year-old Trump. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel bemoaned “unsatisfactory” discussions on climate change and fended off barbs on trade, Macron highlighted the positives.
“I met a leader who has strong convictions on a number of subjects, some of which I share, such as terrorism or upholding our rank in the league of nations,” Macron told reporters without being prompted on their relationship.
“It was a first experience for both of us and he saw the interest of a multilateral discussion. The realism and pro-activeness that he showed during his campaign hasn’t been lost, but now he can take into account the interests of his friends and partners.”
It was a far cry from Macron’s own campaign rhetoric when he had urged researchers and companies to abandon the United States and join the land of innovation he wants France to be.
He had also made veiled criticism of Trump’s plans to build a wall along the U.S.’ border with Mexico, comparing the idea to France’s Maginot Line, which in 1940 failed to keep Nazi invaders out of France.
But any hint of criticism vanished at the G7. Between allies, Macron said, there would always be differences, but they needed to be discussed and worked through.
The body language between the two men was more relaxed than their initial meetings in Brussels and they were caught on camera sharing the occasional joke.
Macron joked on Saturday that Trump had told him he had never backed his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen during the recent French election. The U.S. president also told him he had refused to see her in January despite the fact she had waited for a long time in his New York Trump Tower.
“Macron was solid in his exchanges with Trump. The idea was not to isolate him,” said a French official, describing Macron’s role at the talks as “the good cop”.
Trump’s refusal for now to commit to the 2015 Paris climate accords has infuriated his allies, none more so than France. But even on this, Macron sought to put an optimistic spin on things, describing the two-days of wrangling as “progress” and refusing to enter into a “logic of six against one”.
”It’s not in our interest. There are disagreements around the table. There was one at this point on climate, but I hope we’ll reduce that gap.
“Mr. Trump is a pragmatist and I‘m hopeful that once he considers all the arguments we made and in the interests of his country he will confirm his commitment,” Macron said.
On leaving Sicily, Trump said he would make his decision next week. Perhaps his first phone call will be to the French leader.
“Trump also asked to exchange cell phone numbers with Macron: Do you want my cell phone so we can speak directly to each other?” CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta tweeted Trump as saying.
Editing by Crispian Balmer