WASHINGTON (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to Washington for the first state visit of Joe Biden’s presidency – a revival of a diplomatic pageant that had been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The relationship between Biden-Macron got off to a rocky start. Macron briefly recalled France’s ambassador to the US last year after the White House announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, undermining a contract for France to sell diesel-powered submarines.
But the relationship has changed with Macron emerging as one of Biden’s most progressive European allies in the Western response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. This week’s visit – which will include Oval Office talks, a glitzy dinner, a news conference and more – comes at a critical time for the two leaders.
The leaders have a long agenda for their Thursday 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 France. But front and center during their Oval Office meeting will be Russia’s war in Ukraine, as Biden and Macron work to maintain economic and military support for Kyiv as it tries to repel Russian forces.
In Washington, Republicans are poised to take control of the House, where GOP leader Kevin McCarthy says Republicans won’t write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by the rising costs of supporting Ukraine in the nine-month war and as Europe battles 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 a “dynamic leader” of America’s oldest ally while explaining Biden’s decision to honor the French president with the first state visit 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 more than 20-course dinner at the White House, but the tradition has been suspended since 2019 due to COVID -19 concerns.
“If you look at what’s going on in Ukraine, look at what’s going on in the Indo Pacific and the tensions with China, France is really in the middle of all those things,” said Kirby. “And so the president felt that this was exactly the country and the most appropriate country to begin with for state visits.”
Macron was also Donald Trump’s Republican choice as the first foreign leader to be honored with a state visit during his term. The 2018 state visit included a trip by both leaders to Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of George Washington, America’s founding president.
Macron was due to arrive in Washington on Tuesday night ahead of a packed 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 on nuclear energy.
On Thursday, Macron will have 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 fed at the state dinner. Grammy winner Jon Batiste will provide the entertainment.
Macron will go to New Orleans on Friday, where he wants to announce plans to expand programs to support French education in US schools, according to French officials.
Despite all that, there are still areas of tension in the relationship between the USA and France.
Biden has avoided embracing Macron’s calls for Ukraine to resume peace talks with Russia, something Biden has repeatedly said is a decision solely in the hands of the Ukrainian leadership.
Perhaps more important are differences that France and other European Union leaders have raised over Biden’s Deflation Act, sweeping legislation passed in August that includes historic spending on climate and energy initiatives. Macron and other leaders have been rankled by a provision in the bill that provides tax credits to consumers who buy electric vehicles manufactured in North America.
The French president, making his case against the subsidies, will underline that it is essential for “Europe, like the United States, to come out stronger… not weaker” as the world emerges from the turmoil of the pandemic and the Russian invasion on Ukraine, according to a senior official of the French government who hurt reporters on the condition of anonymity to get a preview of private conversations.
Macron said earlier this month that the subsidies could improve the “level playing field” on trade with the EU and called aspects of Biden’s legislation “unfriendly.”
Meanwhile, the White House plans to counter that the legislation goes a long way in helping the United States meet global efforts to curb climate change. The president and aides will also emphasize to 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 briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to preview the negotiations. .
Macron’s visit comes about 14 months after the relationship hit its nadir after the US announced its agreement to sell nuclear submarines to Australia.
After the announcement of the agreement, 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 acknowledging that his administration had been “clumsy” in its handling of the issue.
Macron’s visit to Harris at NASA headquarters on Wednesday will give the two countries an opportunity to highlight their cooperation in space.
In June France signed the Artemis Accords, a blueprint for space cooperation and support for NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 and to launch a historic human mission to Mars.
That same month, the United States joined a French initiative to develop new tools for adapting to climate change, the Space for Climate Observatory.
Corbet reported from Paris.
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