By AAMER MADHANI and SYLVIE CORBET – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to Washington for the first state visit of Joe Biden’s presidency — a revival of the diplomatic spectacle that was suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Biden-Macron relationship got off to a rocky start. Macron briefly recalled France’s ambassador to the United States last year after the White House announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, undermining France’s contract to sell diesel submarines.
But the relationship has changed, with Macron becoming one of Biden’s most European-oriented allies in the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This week’s visit — which will include talks in the Oval Office, a glitzy dinner, a news conference and more — comes at a critical time for both leaders.
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The leaders have a long agenda for Thursday’s meeting at the White House, including Iran’s nuclear program, China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and growing concerns about security and stability in Africa’s Sahel region, according to US officials and French. But front and center during the Oval Office meeting will be Russia’s war in Ukraine, as both Biden and Macron work to maintain economic and military support for Kyiv while trying to push back Russian forces.
In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House, where GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday, after a meeting with Biden and fellow congressional leaders, vowed again that Republicans would not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe together will be tested by the rising costs of supporting Ukraine in the nine-month war and as Europe grapples with rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday described Macron as the “dynamic leader” of America’s oldest ally as he explained Biden’s decision to honor the French president with the first visit of state of his presidency.
The US tradition of honoring foreign heads of state dates back to Ulysses S. Grant, who hosted King David Kalakaua of the Kingdom of Hawaii for a 20-plus-course dinner at the White House, but the tradition has been halted since 2019 due to COVID-19. -19 concerns.
“If you look at what’s going on in Ukraine, what’s going on in the Indo Pacific and the tensions with China, France is really at the center of all of that,” Kirby said. “And so the president felt that this was exactly the right and most appropriate country to start the state visits.”
Macron was also Republican Donald Trump’s choice as the first foreign leader to be honored with a state visit during his tenure. The 2018 state visit included a trip by the two leaders to Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of George Washington, America’s founding president.
French government spokesman Olivier Veran said Tuesday that Macron’s second state visit was “a strong symbol of the partnership between France and the United States.” It shows “very strong ties” between the countries and comes at a time when the world is grappling with major international issues, including the war in Ukraine, food security, climate and energy, he said.
Veran added that there was a need for “resynchronization” of the agendas of the European Union and the United States to deal with the crises, especially in energy and rising prices.
Macron was scheduled to arrive in Washington late Tuesday before a full day of meetings and appearances in and around Washington on Wednesday — including a visit to NASA headquarters with Vice President Kamala Harris and talks with Biden administration officials about nuclear energy.
On Thursday, Macron will hold his private meeting with Biden, followed by a joint news conference and visits to the State Department and Capitol Hill before Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, are feted at a state dinner. Grammy winner Jon Batiste will provide the entertainment. The White House has been preparing for Macron’s arrival for days, setting up a large marquee for festivities on the South Lawn and decorating the light poles that line the White House complex with French flags.
Macron will head to New Orleans on Friday, where he is expected to announce plans to expand programs to support French-language education in US schools, according to French officials.
However, there are still areas of tension in the US-France relationship.
Biden avoided accepting Macron’s calls for Ukraine to resume peace talks with Russia, which Biden has repeatedly said is a decision solely in the hands of Ukraine’s leadership.
Perhaps more pressing are the differences French and other European Union leaders have raised over Biden’s Inflation Relief Act, sweeping legislation passed in August that includes historic spending on climate and energy initiatives. Macron and other leaders were troubled by a provision in the bill that offers tax credits to consumers who buy electric vehicles made in North America.
The French president, in his defense of subsidies, will stress that it is essential that “Europe, like the US, emerges stronger … not weaker” as the world emerges from the tumult of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. , according to a senior French government official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to preview the private discussions.
Earlier this month, Macron said the subsidies could change the “level playing field” in trade with the EU and called aspects of the Biden legislation “unfriendly”.
Meanwhile, the White House plans to counter that the legislation goes a long way toward helping the U.S. meet global efforts to curb climate change. The president and advisers will also convince the French that the legislation will also create new opportunities for French companies and others in Europe, according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to anticipate the discussions.
Macron’s visit comes about 14 months after the relationship reached a high point after the US announced its agreement to sell nuclear submarines to Australia.
After the announcement of the deal, which had been negotiated in secret, France briefly recalled its ambassador to Washington. A few weeks later, Macron met with Biden in Rome ahead of the Group of 20 summit, where the US president tried to patch things up by admitting that his administration had been “clumsy” in its handling of the issue.
Macron’s visit with Harris to NASA headquarters on Wednesday will give the two countries a chance to highlight their cooperation in space.
France signed the Artemis Accords in June, a space cooperation plan that supports NASA’s plans to return humans to the Moon by 2024 and launch a historic human mission to Mars.
That same month, the US joined a French initiative to develop new climate change adaptation tools, the Space for Climate Observatory.
Corbet reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed reporting.
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