President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron: From white-knuckle handshake to red-carpet embrace

There initially seemed to be little love between President Donald Trump and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.

Macron made headlines when he swerved away from Trump and instead hugged German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a NATO summit last year.

But while China’s Xi Jinping and Japan’s Abe Shinzo were treated to dinner at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, Macron will have the honor of being the first foreign leader to be welcomed at the Trump White House for an official state visit, with all the ceremonial pomp that goes with it.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has confirmed the Macron visit, but said a date was still being finalized. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said this week that Macron would visit Washington in late April, but referred to it as an "official visit," not a state visit. The reason for the apparent discrepancy is unclear.

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President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron
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President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron before a working lunch ahead of a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump greets French President Emmanuel Macron before a lunch ahead of a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and France's President Emmanuel Macron shake hands before a working lunch ahead of a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump jokes with French President Emmanuel Macron about their handshakes in front of NATO leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (2ndR) and Belgium King Philippe (L), at the start of the NATO summit at their new headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A combination photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump (L) trying twice to let go of a handshake with France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) as Macron holds tight, before a working lunch ahead of a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets French President Emmanuel Macron before a working lunch ahead of a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool
US President Donald Trump (R) talks with French President Emmanuel Macron as they attend the Summit of the Heads of State and of Government of the G7, the group of most industrialized economies, plus the European Union, on May 26, 2017 in Taormina, Sicily. The leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the US and Italy will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as teams from Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia during the summit from May 26 to 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets French President Emmanuel Macron before a working lunch ahead of a NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool
US President Donald Trump (L) and US First Lady Melania Trump (C) speak with French President Emmanuel Macron (R) as they arrive for a concert of the La Scala Philharmonic Orchestra during the Summit of the Heads of State and of Government of the G7, the group of most industrialized economies, plus the European Union, on May 26, 2017 at the ancient Greek Theater in Taormina, Sicily. The leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the US and Italy will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as teams from Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia during the summit from May 26 to 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / PHILIPPE WOJAZER (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump attend the Summit of the Heads of State and of Government of the G7, the group of most industrialized economies, plus the European Union, on May 26, 2017 in Taormina, Sicily. The leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the US and Italy will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as teams from Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia during the summit from May 26 to 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump meets French President Emmanuel Macron in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump meets French President Emmanuel Macron in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump as First Lady Melania Trump looks on after the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump speak with French army general Bruno Le Ray, military governor of Paris, at the end of the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Donald Trump attend the traditional Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 14: U.S President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron during the traditional Bastille day military parade on the Champs-Elysees on July 14, 2017 in Paris France. Bastille Day, the French National day commemorates this year the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States of America into World War I (Photo by Antoine Gyori/Corbis via Getty Images)
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For Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Trump's choice of Macron was not terribly surprising.

“Macron’s the golden boy,” Dungan told NBC News. “The state visit signals that he has been extremely skillful in positioning 'Macron and Trump' and in positioning 'France and the United States,'” Dungan added.

Yet their relationship didn’t start on the best of terms.

Show of dominance

During the French presidential election, Trump openly backed Macron’s opponent, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, whose anti-Europe policies and isolationist stance contrast starkly with Macron’s own pro-Europe, pro-globalization rhetoric.

Then came the white-knuckle handshake at their first meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels in May. The French president, who reportedly studied Trump’s unique style of forcefully yanking the other person’s hand in a show of dominance, held on strong until it was the American president who backed down first.

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Brigitte Macron and Emmanuel Macron
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Brigitte Macron and Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, arrives on stage with his wife Brigitte Trogneux to deliver a speech at the Parc des Expositions hall in Paris after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Emmanuel Macron (L), head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux stand together at a polling station to vote in Le Touquet, northern France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Feferberg/Pool
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche! (Onwards!) and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux pose for the photograph in Le Touquet, France, April 22, 2017, on the eve of the first round of presidential election. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, kisses his wife Brigitte Trogneux as he arrives on stage to deliver a speech at the Parc des Expositions hall in Paris after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (Onwards !) and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux pose during a lunch break as part of a campaign visit in Bagneres de Bigorre, in the Pyrenees mountain, France, April 12, 2017. Picture taken April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Feferberg/Pool
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election and his wife Brigitte Trogneux pose in countryside in Le Touquet, France, on the eve of France's first round of the Presidential election, April 22, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement 'En Marche!', or 'Onwards!', and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, kisses his wife Brigitte Trogneux as they attend a meeting for Women's Day in Paris, France, March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron (R) and his wife Brigitte Trogneux attend a political rally for his political movement, En Marche !, or Forward !, in Le Mans, France, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
French Economy minister Emmanuel Macron (R) and his wife Brigitte Trogneux arrive to attend the traditional Bastille Day military parade in Paris, France, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron (L) and his wife Brigitte Trogneux attend the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 23: Founder and Leader of the political movement 'En Marche !' and presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron (R), with his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L), addresses activists after the announcement of the French presidential Election results on April 23, 2017 in Paris, France. According to projected results, founder and leader of the political movement 'En Marche !' Emmanuel Macron has received the most votes with National Front Party leader Marine Le Pen in second place, meaning both will now compete against each other in the next round of the French Presidential Elections on May 7. (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)
French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron (L) and his wife Brigitte Trogneux react during a meeting at the Parc des Expositions in Paris, on April 23, 2017, after the first round of the Presidential election. / AFP PHOTO / Patrick KOVARIK (Photo credit should read PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)
French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron (R) kisses his wife Brigitte Trogneux prior to deliver a speech at the Parc des Expositions in Paris, on April 23, 2017, after the first round of the Presidential election. / AFP PHOTO / Patrick KOVARIK (Photo credit should read PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)
LE TOUQUET-PARIS-PLAGE, FRANCE - APRIL 23: French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron for the En Marche ! movement flanked by his wife Brigitte Trogneux speaks with supporters as he leaves the Touquet polling station after voting for the 1st round of French presidential election on April 23, 2017 in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France. (Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 17: Brigitte Trogneux (C) attends a meeting of her husband Emmanuel Macron (not pictured), Founder and Leader of the political movement 'En Marche !' and candidate for the 2017 French Presidential Election at AccorHotels Arena (named before Paris Bercy) on April 17, 2017 in Paris, France. France will go to the polls on April 23 to decide their next President. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)
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The video went viral.

Later in the day as leaders were gathering for a photo opportunity, Macron pointedly swerved past Trump to shake hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel first. The snub was, again, widely reported.

But since then, Macron seems to have changed his tune toward the American leader.

“Macron has handled Trump with incredible skill: respecting the individual and very importantly, demanding respect from Trump,” Dungan said.

'A great guy'

Macron started the charm offensive on Bastille Day last year, inviting Trump as the guest of honor to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. The two leaders and their wives watched the traditional annual military parade and enjoyed a Michelin-starred meal on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower.

The honor chimed well with Trump. Several days after the whirlwind visit he described Macron as “a great guy. Smart. Strong,” in an interview with The New York Times, adding that they had "a great relationship."

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Donald and Melania Trump through the years
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Donald and Melania Trump through the years
Real estate magnate Donald Trump (L) and his girlfriend Melania Knauss leave Hollinger International's annual meeting at the Metropolitan Club in New York on May 22, 2003. Hollinger publishes The Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post and other newspapers. REUTERS/Peter Morgan PM/ME
Donald Trump and his girlfriend Melania Knauss arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton's restaurant in West Hollywood, California, February 29, 2004. REUTERS/Ethan Miller REUTERS EM/AS
Real estate tycoon Donald Trump and his friend Melania Knauss pose for photographers as they arrive at the New York premiere of Star Wars Episode I: "The Phantom Menace," May 16. JC/SV/AA
From left, Billy Crystal, host of the 76th annual Academy Awards, his wife Janice Goldfinger, Melania Knauss and her boyfriend Donald Trump, pose together as they leave the Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton's restaurant in West Hollywood, California, early March 1, 2004. REUTERS/Ethan Miller EM
Developer Donald Trump (R) and his girlfriend Melania Knauss pose for photographers after the final show of "The Apprentice" April 15, 2004 in New York. Bill Rancic, a 32-year-old Internet entrepreneur from Chicago, edged out Kwame Jackson, a 29-year-old New Yorker and Harvard MBA, for the Trump-described "dream job of a lifetime" and its $250,000 salary. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen JC
Donald Trump's new bride, Slovenian model Melania Knauss, waves as they leave the Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church after their wedding in Palm Beach, Florida, January 22, 2005. REUTERS/Gary I Rothstein
Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs (R) accepts an award from the Rush Philanthropic Foundation for his efforts to support public education and dedication to youth and social activism, from Donald Trump and his wife Melania (L) at Trump's Trumps Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida on March 11, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Arnold MS
Donald Trump and his wife Melania Kanauss watch the Miami Heat play the New York Knicks in the first quarter of their NBA game in New York's Madison Square Garden, March 15, 2005. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine RFS
Donald Trump (L) and his wife Melania arrive at the Museum of Modern Art for a reception in honor of Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in New York November 1, 2005. The Royals are on the first day of an eight-day visit to the U.S. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Donald Trump arrives with wife Melania at a reception in honor of Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, November 1, 2005. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Donald Trump (L) and his wife Melania (R) arrive at the Museum of Modern Art for a reception in honor of Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in New York, November 1, 2005. The royals are on the first day of an eight-day visit to the U.S. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Real estate tycoon Donald Trump and his wife Melania attend a Miami Heat against the Los Angeles Lakers NBA game on Christmas Day in Miami, Florida, December 25, 2005. REUTERS/Marc Serota
Donald Trump stands next to his wife Melania and their son Barron before he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles January 16, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello (UNITED STATES)
Real estate magnate and television personality Donald Trump and his wife Melania stand on the red carpet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit celebrating the opening of the exhibition "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" in New York May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS)
Businessman and real estate developer Donald Trump and his wife Melania watch Rafael Nadal of Spain play against Tommy Robredo during their men's quarter-final match at the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT TENNIS ENTERTAINMENT REAL ESTATE BUSINESS)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (2nd from L) watches with his wife Melania as Serena Williams of the U.S. plays against her sister and compatriot Venus Williams in their quarterfinals match at the U.S. Open Championships tennis tournament in New York, September 8, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania as he speaks at a campaign rally on caucus day in Waterloo, Iowa February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as his wife Melania listens at a campaign rally on caucus day in Waterloo, Iowa February 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to an answer his wife Melania gives during an interview on NBC's 'Today' show in New York, U.S. April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Melania Trump gestures at her husband Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump as they leave the stage, after she concluded her remarks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Melania Trump appears on stage after U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump greets his wife Melania onstage after the conclusion of his first debate with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S., September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Raedle/Pool
(L-R) Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump and Ivanka Trump attend an official ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington U.S., October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump cuts the ribbon at his new Trump International hotel in Washington, DC, U.S., October 26 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania Trump at a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina Florida, U.S. November 5, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican U.S. President-elect Donald Trump kisses his wife Melania at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania take part in a Make America Great Again welcome concert in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania take part in a Make America Great Again welcome concert in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump attend the Liberty Ball in honor of his inauguration in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend the 60th Annual Red Cross Gala at Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 4, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet a marching band as they arrive at Trump International Golf club to watch the Super Bowl LI between New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump hugs his wife Melania during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up H.R. 321 as his daughter Ivanka Trump (C) and U.S. first lady Melania Trump (2nd R) watch after it was signed in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, DC, U.S. February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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But it’s behind the scenes that Macron has been the most active, regularly consulting with his American counterpart by phone.

“I call him very regularly,” Macron told the BBC recently. “I’m always very direct and frank. He is [too]. Sometimes I manage to convince him, sometimes I fail.”

For Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, head of The German Marshall Fund of the United States in Paris, a nonpartisan American public policy think tank that focuses on trans-Atlantic cooperation in the spirit of the Marshall Plan, Macron is just being practical.

“Pragmatism and opportunism really prevails in Macron’s approach," de Hoop Scheffer said. “Macron’s approach is about trying to find common ground, interests, cooperation with Washington while clarifying red lines."

The French leader has been transparent about his desire to re-establish France as the leader of Europe and at the center of global diplomacy. A strong relationship with the U.S. is key to that, and he’s been helped by the U.K. and Germany becoming increasingly inward-looking as their respective governments deal with Brexit and coalition talks.

“He’s portrayed himself as the interpreter of Trump’s policies in Europe, and he’s become the key interlocutor of Trump in Europe,” de Hoop Scheffer said.

The news media has made much of the two presidents' similarities: Neither has held elected office before, and both share a 24-year age gap with their spouses — Trump being the senior in his marriage, and Macron the junior in his.

But the similarities also extend to their world views.

“In essence, they both want to be powerful heads of powerful countries,” Dungan said. "They agree on a fundamental conception of the importance of sovereign action.”

They also agree on many policy issues and “share more or less the same policy objectives,” especially on security and counterterrorism issues, as well as on China and Iran, according to de Hoop Scheffer.

“But where they diverge is on the approach,” she explained.

One wants to Make America Great Again by pulling out of multilateral agreements; the other wants to Make France Great Again by playing a bigger role on the international stage.

They also disagree on the impact of climate change, with Trump having pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's invitation of a state visit to Trump has inspired virulent opposition, including a petition signed by over 1.85 millioncitizens to prevent it and a call from London Mayor Sadiq Khan to cancel it.

But unlike in the U.K., the French public has been fairly relaxed about its leader's warm relationship with Trump. That's despite a recent Dentsu/Le Figaro poll which found that nine out of 10 French people have an unfavorable opinion of the American leader.

“The French people are as pragmatic as their president: They believe that having a good relationship with Washington and having their president able to influence his American counterpart is seen as a positive,” de Hoop Scheffer explained.

Dungan offered a different view.

"The fact that there is an old, bombastic, ignorant, immature person who’s American isn’t surprising to the French," Dungan said. "The only thing that is is that he managed to get elected."

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