Emmanuel Macron demanded climate change action and defended the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday in a pointed rebuke of Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. Addressing a joint session of the US Congress, the French president called on America to remain engaged in the world in a rebuttal of Mr Trump’s isolationist instincts.
Mr Macron said there was no “Planet B” as he predicted the US will one day return to the Paris climate change agreement, reversing Mr Trump’s decision for withdrawal. The French president rebuked the US president for wanting to rip up the Iran agreement, but agreed that the regime must “never” be allowed to get nuclear weapons.
And on tariffs, Mr Macron warned that abandoning “free and fair trade” would “destroy jobs”, “increase prices” and punish the middle class.
Mr Macron praised America and France’s “shared ideals” forged in revolution and hardened in fights against the Cold War and Nazism.
However he warned that isolationism risked “undermin[ing] the liberal order that we built under World War Two”. Mr Macron also said the world’s dangers will spiral and the United Nations (UN) and Nato be weakened if the US stopped fighting for its values overseas.
“Today, the call we hear is the call of history,” Mr Macron said in an emotive call to arms near the end of his speech. “This is the time of determination and courage. What we cherish is at stake. What we love is in danger. We have no choice but to prevail and together we shall prevail.”
He also warned: “We can choose isolationism. But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. If we decide to open our eyes wider, we will be much stronger.”
The speech ended a three-day US state visit that has seen Mr Macron reaffirm his position as the world leader with the closest personal relationship with Mr Trump.
He told Congress: “[Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire] embraced each other by hugging one another in their arms and kissing each other’s cheeks. It can remind you of something.”
But the speech – the first joint session from a world leader since 2016 – showed Mr Macron was willing to publicly challenge the US president on policy.
On climate change, Mr Macron asked “what is the meaning of our lives if we spend it destroying the future of our children?” He said it was time to “make our planet great again” – echoing Mr Trump’s campaign slogan – and predicted the US will “one day” return to the Paris climate change agreement.
That triggered the biggest moment of applause as Democrats leapt to their feet while Republicans gave a more lukewarm response – one of a number of points when his speech split the chamber. “I believe in building a planet for our children that is still inhabitable in 25 years,” he said.
In a pointed reference to Mr Trump, he added: “Some people think that securing industries and current jobs is more important than climate change… I hear this concern, but we must find a smooth transition.” “Let us face it. There is no planet B,” he said.
On the Iran nuclear deal, Mr Macron pledged France would stay in the 2015 agreement and criticised Mr Trump’s hints he will withdraw. However he repeated Tuesday’s call for a new wider deal that will tackle Iran’s ballistic missile programme and behaviour in Syria and Yemen as well as nuclear issues.
And Mr Macron pledged: “Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now. Not in 5 years. Not in 10 years. Never.” On wider themes, Mr Macron repeatedly challenged Mr Trump’s instinct to disengage from the world – a prominent foreign policy theme in his 2016 election campaign.
Mr Macron said: “Today, the international community needs to step up our game and build the 21st century world order based on the perennial principles we established together after World War II.” He also said: “We must remember the warning of President Theodore Roosevelt: Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, handed on for them to do the same.”
The comments, alongside a demand for “strong multilateralism”, will be seen as a call for Mr Trump to stand by Nato and the UN and stay engaged in in the Middle East, especially Syria. Mr Trump said he was “looking forward” to watching the address before it begun but remained silent on Twitter during the speech.
Busy day planned. Looking forward to watching President Macron of France address a Joint Session of Congress today. This is a great honor and seldom allowed to be done…he will be GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2018
The French president is the first foreign leader since Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, in 2016 to be given the honour. “I want you to know how much I appreciate this unique gesture, thank you,” Mr Macron told the chamber. The speech saw all US senators and congressmen gather in the House of Representatives, the same venue of the president’s ‘state of the union’ address.
Gordon Brown was the last British prime minister to address a joint session of Congress in 2009. Tony Blair also did so in 2013. Mr Macron and his wife were the guest of honour at a state dinner on Tuesday night in the White House, designed by Mr Trump’s wife Melania.