A muscular handshake that turned their knuckles white seems to be giving way to a budding friendship between U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron.
The unexpected bromance between the leaders of America and France was on full display for the world Friday at the annual Bastille Day military parade and celebration in Paris. This year the event coincided with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I.
Trump spent a large portion of his day and a half in the French capital in the embrace of Macron, who went to extraordinary lengths to impress the U.S. president by turning a day of national pride into a celebration of American patriotism and friendship between the two countries.
Trump and Macron exchanged many handshakes during the course of Trump’s first visit to France as president, perhaps none more telling than the one they shared after the parade. As Trump departed to head home to Washington, the leaders clasped hands and held on to each other as they walked. Trump at one point pulled the smaller Macron off balance and held fast as they approached their wives. Even then, Trump held on to Macron’s hand as he shook hands with Macron’s wife, Brigitte.
WATCH: Trump attends Bastille Day festivities as spectre of Russia continues to loom
They appeared to have moved beyond that tense introduction in May, when a white-knuckle handshake that Macron later said was meant to show he’s no pushover was widely interpreted as a sign of the fraught relations to come. Trump’s brand of “America First” politics had unsettled some European allies.
But the body language in Paris this week suggested their relationship has moved to a new level. Both seemed to minimize differences in order to focus on areas where they can work together, such as the crisis in Syria and Mideast security.
Macron, in closing the parade, publicly thanked the U.S. for coming to France’s aid during the war, saying “nothing will ever separate us.”
“The presence at my side of the president of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump, and of his wife, is the sign of a friendship across the ages,” Macron said. Trump made no remarks at the conclusion of the parade, but he returned the kindness in a statement released as Air Force One flew back to the U.S.
“America and France will never be defeated or divided,” Trump said, adding that it was his “high honor” to commemorate, on French soil, France’s most historic day and the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I.
Despite major differences between the two leaders on such issues as climate change and trade, Macron nonetheless carved out time in his presidential schedule Thursday to lead Trump on a tour of the Les Invalides monument before Trump gave Macron a lift to the French presidential palace in his armored Cadillac limousine known as “The Beast” for their talks and a joint news conference.
They capped Thursday with a double dinner date with their wives at the famed Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.
Trump even declined a reporter’s invitation during the news conference to repeat his past criticism of Paris, saying instead that the city’s future is bright because France has a “great” and “tough” leader in Macron.
And Trump’s fawning over Macron extended to Brigitte Macron, whose physical appearance he commented on. “You know, you’re in such good shape,” Trump told the French leader’s wife, before repeating his observation to her husband and adding “beautiful.”
WATCH: Trump takes note of Brigitte Macron’s physique
Macron and Trump both came to office as unlikely outsider candidates. At age 39, the youngest president of modern France – and the same age as Donald Trump Jr. – Macron started his own political movement just over a year ago. He won a strong parliamentary majority and is riding high in the polls. Trump, on the other hand, is riding low in the polls at home and much of his agenda is stalled, despite sharing party control with both houses of Congress.
Macron is positioning himself to become Trump’s European whisperer.
Yannick Mireur, a French political scientist, said Macron went into the meeting with “a rather rare quality – that of empathy, interest in the person to try and understand him, to find the key to him.”
Both seemed to minimize their differences, said Spencer Boyer, a former national intelligence officer for Europe and fellow at the Brookings Institution. And Trump seemed to welcome a brief respite from all the focus back home on his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign.
“President Macron was highly skilled at putting President Trump at ease and avoiding any land mines that would have derailed the show of unity,” Boyer said. “Macron was especially adept at sidestepping questions about U.S. political controversies, which Trump clearly appreciated.”
Although the welcome may have taken some of the sting out of their first encounter, Macron’s amiable meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier Thursday showed the balance Macron appears to be striking.
Trump’s parting tweet showed a photo of the two men looking out over the famed Champs-Elysees, standing shoulder to shoulder during what the American described as a “magnificent #BastilleDay parade.”
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report