The Iran nuclear deal will be front and center when French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a joint meeting of Congress Wednesday — but he is not expected to strike the same bellicose tone as the last world leader who discussed the pact in the House chamber.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his place in the House chamber on March 3, 2015, and delivered a forceful speech that warned House and Senate members that the then-emerging deal would “inevitably” cause a war.
“We must now choose between two paths: One path leads to a deal that curtails [the program] for a while. The other leads to a nuclear-armed Iran … that inevitably leads to war,” Netanyahu said that day. “Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”
The Israeli president had flown to Washington at the invitation of then-GOP House Speaker John A. Boehner. As Garret Martin, an American University professor, put it, if Macron strikes the kind of ominous tone Netanyahu used, it would “work against everything he’s been trying to achieve on the Iran deal.”
Jeff Lightfoot of the Atlantic Council said Netanyahu was here to “campaign against the president,” whereas Macron will be walking a tightrope of attempting to keep the existing Iran nuclear deal from collapsing while trying to convince Trump and his GOP allies in Congress to help him improve it.
Watch: What’s a Joint Meeting of Congress and Who Gets the Honor?
“French diplomats I’ve talked to say President Macron will avoid the Netanyahu approach. They say he will tell Congress he wants to work together and urge them — on this and other foreign policy issues — to not let ‘America first’ mean America going it alone,” Lightfoot said.
The French president’s persuasion campaign began long before his trip to the Capitol on Wednesday. He and Trump speak frequently, and have been discussing the fate of the so-called P5+1 nuclear deal for months. They huddled privately Tuesday morning in the Oval Office, and then appeared together in the Cabinet Room with senior aides. Those talks went on longer than planned, with reporters waiting outside under threatening skies for a joint press conference that started an hour later than scheduled.
When they appeared together in the East Room, Macron let his intentions be known. He called for new talks with Iranian officials that would keep the Obama-era deal in place while, if negotiations were successful, adding new provisions on the country’s ballistic missile program, ending all of Tehran’s nuclear activities by 2025, and seeking a “political solution” to its actions in places like Syria, Yemen and across the Middle East.
Macron’s description of his vision offered a preview of the tough but measured message foreign policy analysts expect he will deliver to lawmakers.
“On Iran, we will look at it in a wider regional context; for example, there’s Syria and the situation in the whole region,” Macron said Tuesday in the Oval Office, seated beside Trump. “We have a common objective. We want to make sure there’s no escalation and no nuclear proliferation in the region. We now need to find the right path forward.”
His U.S. counterpart signaled a willingness to seek a broader deal, but also was more blunt about his view of the pact former President Barack Obama and his second secretary of State, John Kerry, inked with Iran and other world powers.
“I think we’ll have a shot at doing a … fairly bigger deal,” the U.S. president said. Earlier, he said this of Obama’s deal: “It was a terrible deal. It should have never ever been made.”
On Wednesday, Lightfoot expects Macron will urge House and Senate members to “be patient — let’s preserve this deal and make it better.”
As Macron gets set to make his pitch to a Congress that has at times taken hard stances toward Tehran, it is unclear just how much time Trump might give him to craft a new accord.
Trump on Tuesday warned Iranian leaders not to restart their nuclear arms program should an international pact collapse.
“They’re not going to be restarting anything. If they restart it, they’re going to have big problems, bigger than they ever had before,” he said.
But the 40-year-old French leader’s address won’t be limited to Iranian atomic weapons.
“I imagine trade also will be at the forefront, since Congress has the purview over those matters,” Martin said. “President Macron should hedge his bets by urging Congress to avoid a trade war because that would be just disastrous for both the U.S. and French economies.”
On matters like trade and what to do about Syria, the American University professor expects Marcon will tell U.S. lawmakers that “France and the EU are open to working together — the Europeans are open to negotiating to end any disagreements there.”
Martin expects Macron will get a warm welcome because Democrats support some of his domestic reforms while Republicans appreciate his willingness to take on ISIS and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
But the Atlantic Council’s Lightfoot suggests members be prepared for a possible extended stay in the House chamber. “I’ve heard he’ll speak for around 30 minutes,” he said. “But we’ll see about that — this is a guy known for talking for two hours.”
Watch: Trump Stands Behind VA Pick, But Says ‘I Wouldn’t Do It’