Macron's art of the deal on display at G7

Clare BYRNE
France's President Emmanuel Macron, right, with US President Donald Trump at the close of the G7 conference in Biarritz, France, on Monday

For some, the mere fact that Donald Trump stuck around marked out this week's G7 summit in Biarritz as a resounding success for his French host Emmanuel Macron.

"These days, that Donald Trump has not walked out constitutes a triumph," Britain's Economist magazine wrote, recalling last year's edition of the rich-country jamboree in Canada, when Trump left early after withdrawing his signature from the final communique.

For others, the show of unity among the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States on issues ranging from Iran to the Amazon fires to the pro-democracy demonstrations rocking Hong Kong was proof that the demise of multilateralism has been greatly exaggerated.

"This G7 refutes the chant... that multilateralism is dead and that only bilateral relations between countries have meaning," France's centre-left Liberation newspaper wrote in an editorial Tuesday.

Instead, it showed that "the situation of this increasingly interconnected planet, whether to do with culture, military conflicts, trade negotiations or climate issues, requires collective responses," it added.

- Consensus vs dissent -

France's energetic 41-year-old president, who came to power in 2017 on a promise to bolster France's global status and combat Europe's drift back towards nationalism, had been angling for a diplomatic coup.

Adept at pulling proverbial rabbits out of hats, he invited Iran's foreign minister to fly to Biarritz on Sunday, the second day of the summit, for talks aimed at easing the nuclear standoff between Washington and Tehran.

The move, for which he received 73-year-old Trump's consent, paid off handsomely with the American declaring that he would be willing to meet Iran's president in the coming weeks.

Citing his hero, French postwar leader General Charles de Gaulle, a visibly pleased Macron told France 2 television on Monday evening after the summit ended: "Diplomacy is about trying to hold broken glass together.

"We tried -- and we succeeded in making significant progress at this G7 on the subject of the Iranian crisis."

Thomas Gomart, a director at the French Institute for International Relations, praised Macron for managing to "create more consensus than dissent, which in the current context is actually quite good".

But he lamented that the state of the global economy had been put on the back burner, "even though it's the raison d'etre of the G7."

- 'Spectacular leader' -

Under pressure to buff his environmental credentials in a year of record temperatures in many parts of the world, Macron seized on the forest fires raging in the Amazon in Brazil and made them one of the summit's priorities.

The scrutiny did not sit well with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who accused him of having a "colonialist mentality" and endorsed a snide Facebook post mocking Macron's wife Brigitte.

But Macron forged ahead regardless, rallying the G7 leaders, including the climate-change-sceptic Trump, around a $20 million (18 million euro) package of logistical and financial aid for the Amazon.

The aid pledges -- which Bolsonaro has rebuffed -- deflected attention from Trump's no-show at the G7 session on climate change, which Macron also shrugged off, declaring the summit had never been about trying to get Trump to change his environmental tune.

Noting the way in which Macron, Britain's Boris Johnson and other leaders tiptoed around the "America-first" nationalist, The New York Times concluded that the real theme of the G7 summit had been "Don't-Get-You-Know-Who-Mad".

It seemed to work, at least for the duration of the summit, with the often-glowering US leader, appearing in genial form and heaping praise on his host.

"You have been a spectacular leader," he told Macron at their joint press conference on the final day.

But Macron knows only too well how quickly Trump's mood can sour.

After calling the Frenchman a "winner" following his election in 2017, Trump rounded on him on in November last year after WW1 commemorations in Paris, noting in a tweet that Macron suffered from "very low approval ratings".

For Francois Heisbourg, a former French diplomat and advisor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, "it's too soon to say whether Trump has changed".

Noting that the US-China trade war looks set to rumble on despite Trump's claims in Biarritz that a deal is still possible, Heisbourg warned it was also "far too soon" to proclaim a victory for multilateralism.

Gomart concurred that "diplomacy alone cannot resolve everything."

"Much will depend on how Donald Trump processes it when he return to the US."