PARIS (AFP) – Donald Trump arrived in Paris on Thursday for a presidential visit filled with Bastille Day pomp and which the White House hopes will offer respite from rolling scandal back home.
Air Force One touched down at Paris’ Orly airport shortly after 0630 GMT, with US president beginning a 24-hour trip that coincides with France’s national day on Friday and the 100th anniversary of US involvement in World War I.
Accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, the 71-year-old stepped onto French soil for the first time as president hoping the visit will distract from weighty allegations that his family and inner circle colluded with Russia to win the 2016 US election.
The scandal has put his son and top aides in legal jeopardy and cast a pall over his efforts to remake American politics.
During the lightning visit, Trump — who sees himself as a transformative figure in US politics — will be the guest of honour festivities marking a pivotal point in the French Revolution, after a trip to Napoleon’s tomb and a Michelin-starred dinner at the Eiffel Tower.
Trump and his host, recently-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, will watch troops parade down the Champs-Elysees and mark 100 years since America entered World War I on France’s side.
Macron, 39, is hoping to use the weight of history and French grandeur to charm the unpredictable Trump — six weeks after welcoming Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the grandiose Palace of Versailles.
In London, Berlin, Brussels and Paris, European leaders are wondering how best to handle the US president, whose nationalist “America First” agenda has upended transatlantic relations.
Macron hopes to build a relationship with the new occupant of the White House that might enable him to influence US policy or, at the least, help avoid serious strains between the EU and Washington.
There are already tensions over climate change and trade, while Trump was openly critical of the EU last year and snubbed a handshake with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their first meeting in March.
“It’s very difficult to play chess with a man whose strategy is a complete mystery and whose only consistency is his pursuit of American national interest,” foreign affairs expert Bertrand Badie of Sciences Po university in Paris told AFP.
“To imagine that you might change his mind on something is simply mad.”