There is a lot riding on President Donald Trump’s initiatives against Iran’s aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East that could bring on war and China’s disruptive trade practices that have beggared the United States. He needs allied support, something his abrasive manner has appeared to discourage. So the emergence of French President Emmanuel Macron as an intermediary with Iran is welcome news.
The success of Mr. Macron’s attempt to bridge the U.S.-Iranian diplomatic gulf remains to be seen. President Trump’s declaration at a joint news conference Monday with his French counterpart that he would “certainly agree” to meet with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani under the right conditions was rebuffed by Mr. Rouhani as an attempt to obtain a “photo op.” Iran rigidly demands that all American sanctions be lifted before there can be talks, a demand that rejects any chance at a compromise.
But the emergence of a working relationship between Mr. Trump and one of Europe’s most forward-leaning heads of state is nevertheless good news. It clearly rests on some careful diplomacy between the two governments as well as a degree of personal warmth between their two leaders.
As the Group of Seven summit last weekend revealed, Europe still officially clings to the Obama-led nuclear agreement with Iran, which Mr. Trump has denounced. But there is an emerging need to protect European shipping in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz against Iranian attacks and seizure, Iran’s threat to resume large-scale enrichment of nuclear fuel and Mr. Rouhani’s rebuff of Mr. Macron’s offer to arrange talks. This all means further isolation for Iran and more prospects for U.S.-European cooperation in dealing with the Iran problem.
That, in turn, also raises hopes for more European cooperation with Mr. Trump in obtaining a change in China’s predatory trade practices, something that is likely to become a long-term process and could be undone by competitive trade deals between Europe and China that exclude the United States.
Mr. Trump has severely shaken up the world of diplomacy with his aggressive stance toward China, Iran and North Korea and what he sees as Europe’s shortcomings on defense and trade. While there is no doubt his brusque, shambolic style can be a detriment and a distraction, the president has had good arguments on his side in each case where he has rejected the normal diplomatic game of speaking softly and kicking the can down the road.
The projects he has taken on, if successful, will strengthen the international order and will benefit Europe and the free nations of Asia as well as the United States. To bring them off, Mr. Trump needs to show the right balance of firmness and flexibility, not only with China and Iran but also with Europe. Having allies at his side will be essential to success. Winning over Mr. Macron to help with Iran is a step in that direction.