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Macron Explains His Tense Handshake with Trump

WASHINGTON — French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed that there was indeed a deeper significance to the prolonged handshake he shared with U.S. President Donald Trump in Brussels.

“My handshake with him, it’s not innocent,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche in an interview published Sunday. “It’s not the alpha and the omega of politics, but a moment of truth.”

The two newly-minted leaders met in Brussels on Thursday and shook hands in full view of the press.

Pool reporter Phillip Rucker of the Washington Post, who was in the room, described it:

“They shook hands for an extended period of time. Each president gripped the other’s hand with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening.”

Steve Holland, who covers the White House for Reuters, tweeted this: “The photogs noticed that Trump and Macron were gripping their hands hard… Trump seems to just want his hand back.”

On at least one, and maybe two, occasions during the tug of war Trump tries to pull away and Macron just keeps holding on.

Handshake history

The tense moment during Trump’s first trip abroad as President became the latest of Trump’s handshakes to draw attention online. In February, Trump’s lengthy handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — along with Abe’s animated reaction — went viral.

Handshakes are a very big thing to this president, writes CNN’s Chris Cillizza. Trump seems to view the handshake as a sort of battle of wills and a battle for power all wrapped into one.

In addition to the awkward Abe shake, Trump has foisted his unusual tug-and-pull style on other high-profile figures, including Vice President Mike Pence and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Show of dominance

In the interview, Macron compared his own handshake to his leadership posture.

“One must show that we won’t make little concessions, even symbolic ones,” Macron said.

The centrist European leader also likened Trump’s diplomatic approach to those of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Donald Trump, the President of Turkey or the President of Russia are of a mindset of power relations, which doesn’t bother me,” Macron said. “I don’t believe in diplomacy of the public invective but in bilateral dialogues. I don’t let anything go. That’s how one makes oneself respected.”

It is a tactic that others have also employed when meeting the US leader. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House, he came prepared, managing to counterbalance Trump’s grip with a combination of poise and control.

During the lead-up to the French presidential election, Trump said positive things about Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, and former US President Barack Obama endorsed Macron, who went on to win by about 30 percentage points.

A French official told CNN near the end of the G-7 summit that the two had gotten along well and that Trump had told Macron after the French election that he hadn’t supported Le Pen.

Macron said in the interview that he believed he could establish a “cordial relationship” with Trump.