Donald Trump reportedly discussed his poll ratings during a “really fantastic” dinner with Emmanuel Macron.
The two leaders and their wives dined at the Mount Vernon residence of America’s first president, George Washington, on Monday night, as part of a three-day state visit for the French president.
Sitting down to a meal of Dover sole, pasta stuffed with ricotta and chocolate soufflé, the pair spoke about the US economy, Mr Trump’s polls and the midterm elections, according to French media.
The dinner was the culmination of a day which saw the Trumps and Macrons plant a tree on White House grounds and take a tour of Washington landmarks aboard Mr Trump’s Marine One helicopter.
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, which became part of US Marine Corps lore.
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 President Washington’s plantation house.
The couples were led on a brief outdoor tour before they entered the pale yellow building for the dinner Mr Trump described as “really fantastic”.
On Tuesday, a sit-down between Mr Trump and Mr 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 later that night with a lavish state dinner at the White House, the highest social tribute a president can bestow on an ally.
Mr Macron’s pomp-filled 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 the 12 May deadline nears.
Mr Macron has said 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”.
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 hosted them at the Eiffel Tower for dinner overlooking the city.
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.
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. On Monday, 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.
Those expected to attend include: 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.
Additional reporting by AP