Business and pleasure on the menu for Macron's second day in Washington

A sit-down between US president Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron followed by a joint news conference will highlight the business portion of the French leader's second day in Washington.

The pageantry of Mr Macron's official state visit, the first of the Trump presidency, comes tonight with a lavish state dinner at the White House.

Monday night was more relaxed, featuring a helicopter tour of Washington landmarks and a trip to the Potomac River home of George Washington for dinner.

Mr Macron's pomp-filled three-day state visit to Washington underscores the importance that both sides attach to the relationship: Mr Macron, who calls Mr Trump often, has emerged as something of a "Trump whisperer" at a time when the American president's relationships with other European leaders are more strained.

Mr Trump, who attaches great importance to the optics of pageantry and ceremony, chose to honour Mr Macron with the first State visit of his administration.

"This is a great honour and I think a very important state visit given the moment of our current environment," Mr Macron said after his plane landed at a US military base near Washington.

For all their camaraderie, Mr Macron and Mr Trump disagree on some fundamental issues, including the multinational nuclear deal, which is aimed at restricting Iran's development of nuclear weapons.

Mr Trump, sceptical of the pact's effectiveness, has been eager to pull out as a May 12 deadline nears.

Mr Macron says he is not satisfied with the situation in Iran and thinks the agreement is imperfect, but he has argued for the US sticking with the deal on the grounds that there is not yet a "Plan B".

The Trumps and Macrons helped plant a tree on the White House grounds together before boarding Trump's Marine One helicopter for a scenic tour of monuments built in the capital city designed by French-born Pierre L'Enfant as they flew south to Mount Vernon, the first US president's home along the Potomac River.

The young oak is an environmentally friendly gift to the White House from Mr Macron, and one that also bears historical significance. It sprouted at a First World War site in France, the Battle of Belleau Wood, that became part of US Marine Corps lore.

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After Mr Trump's helicopter landed at Mount Vernon, the two presidents, each holding his wife's hand, walked a short distance and posed for pictures before they boarded golf carts that ferried them to the front door of Washington's plantation house.

The couples were led on a brief outdoor tour before they entered the pale yellow building for dinner of Dover sole, pasta stuffed with lemon ricotta, and chocolate souffle and cherry vanilla ice cream.

Mr Trump declared the dinner "really fantastic" before returning to the White House.

He ended his first year in office without receiving a foreign leader on a state visit, the first president in nearly 100 years to fail to do so.

He was Mr Macron's guest last July at the annual Bastille Day military parade in the centre of Paris. Mr Macron and his wife also took Mr Trump and America's first lady on a tour of Napoleon's tomb and whisked them up in the Eiffel Tower for dinner overlooking the City of Light.

Mr Macron will be welcomed back to the White House on Tuesday with a traditional arrival ceremony featuring nearly 500 members of the US military and a booming 21-gun salute.

The state visit also offers Mr Macron his first Oval Office sit-down with Mr Trump and a joint White House news conference. There is also a State Department lunch hosted by vice president Mike Pence.

The French president's White House day will be capped on Tuesday night with a state dinner, the highest social tribute a president bestows on an ally and partner.

Melania Trump played an active role in every detail of the visit, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The first lady settled on a state dinner menu of rack of lamb and nectarine tart, along with after-dinner entertainment provided by the Washington National Opera for about 150 guests.

Yesterday, she released details of the glitzy affair being planned to dazzle Mr Macron and his wife, Brigitte.

Dinner will be served in the State Dining Room, which will feature more than 2,500 stems of white sweet pea flowers and nearly 1,000 stems of white lilac.

Separately, more than 1,200 branches of cherry blossoms will adorn the majestic Cross Hall.

The first lady opted for a cream-and-gold colour scheme, and will use a mix of china services from the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

State dinner tickets are highly sought after by Washington's political and business elite.

A few of those expected to attend are: Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund and a former top French government official; House Speaker Paul Ryan; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton; Defence Secretary Jim Mattis; Senator Bill Cassidy; and Mike Pompeo, Mr Trump's choice to be the next secretary of state.

In a break with tradition, Mr Trump has invited no congressional Democrats or journalists, said a White House official. But some Democrats did make the cut, including Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards, whose office confirmed his attendance.

- PA

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