WASHINGTON — Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron sat down Thursday for the centerpiece talks of a pomp-filled French state visit, with the two leaders eager to talk through the war in Ukraine, concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and European dismay over aspects of Biden’s signature climate law.
Biden is honoring Macron with the first state dinner of his presidency on Thursday evening, but first the two leaders met in the Oval Office to discuss difficult issues that they confront.
At the top of the agenda is the nine-month-old war in Ukraine in which Biden and Macron face headwinds as they try to maintain unity in the U.S. and Europe to keep economic and military aid flowing to Kyiv as it tries to repel Russian forces.
“The choices we make today and the years ahead will determine the course of our world for decades to come,” Biden said at an arrival ceremony.
Macron at the start of the face-to-face meeting acknowledged the “challenging times” in Ukraine and called on the two nations to better “synchronize our actions” on climate.
The leaders began their talks shortly after hundreds of people gathered on the South Lawn on a sunny, chilly morning for the ceremony that included a 21-gun salute and review of troops. Ushers distributed small French and American flags to the guests who gathered to watch Biden and Macron start the state visit.
Both leaders at the ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance. But they acknowledged difficult moments lay ahead as Western unity shows some wear nine months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House, where GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has said his party’s lawmakers will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by the mounting costs of supporting Ukraine in the war and as Europe battles rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery.
Macron at the arrival ceremony stressed a need for the U.S. and France to keep the West united as the war continues.
“Our two nations are sisters in the fight for freedom,” Macron declared.
Amid the talk of maintaining unity, differences on trade were shadowing the visit.
Macron has made clear that he and other European leaders are concerned about the incentives in a new climate-related law that favor American-made climate technology, including electric vehicles.
He criticized the legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, during a luncheon Wednesday with U.S. lawmakers and again during a speech at the French Embassy. Macron said that while the Biden administration’s efforts to curb climate change should be applauded, the subsidies would be an enormous setback for European companies.
“The choices that have been made ... are choices that will fragment the West,” Macron said. He said the legislation “creates such differences between the United States of America and Europe that all those who work in many companies (in the U.S.), they will just think, ‘We don’t make investments any more on the other side of the Atlantic.’”
He also said major industrial nations need to do more to address climate change and promote biodiversity.
In an interview that aired Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Macron said the U.S. and France were working together well on the war in Ukraine and geopolitics overall, but not on “some economic issues.” The U.S. climate bill and semiconductor legislation, he said, were not properly coordinated with Europe and created “the absence of a level playing field.”
Earlier, he had criticized a deal reached at a recent climate summit in Egypt in which the United States and other wealthy nations agreed to help pay for the damage that an overheating world is inflicting on poor countries. The deal includes few details on how it will be paid for, and Macron said a more comprehensive approach is needed — “not just a new fund we decided which will not be funded and even if it is funded, it will not be rightly allocated.″
The blunt comments follow another low point last year after Biden announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, undermining a contract for France to sell diesel-powered submarines. The relationship has recovered since then with Biden acknowledging a clumsy rollout of the submarine deal and Macron emerging as one of Biden’s strongest European allies in the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As for the Inflation Reduction Act, the European Union has also expressed concern that tax credits, including those aimed at encouraging Americans to buy electric vehicles, would discriminate against European producers and break World Trade Organization rules.
Macron planned to make his case to U.S. officials against the subsidies, underscoring that it’s crucial for “Europe, like the U.S., to come out 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
Macron also planned to seek exceptions to the U.S. legislation for some European clean energy manufacturers, according to a second French official who requested anonymity under the presidency’s customary practices.
Biden administration officials have countered that the legislation goes a long way in helping the U.S. to meet global goals to curb climate change.
Macron also raised eyebrows earlier this month in a speech at a summit in Bangkok when he referred to the U.S. and China as “two big elephants” that are the cusp of creating “a big problem for the rest of jungle.” His visit to Washington also comes as both the U.S. and France are keeping an eye on China after protests broke out last weekend in several mainland cities and Hong Kong over Beijing’s “zero COVID” strategy.
The honor of this state visit is a boost to Macron diplomatically that he can leverage back in Europe. His outspoken comments help him demonstrate that he’s defending French workers, even as he maintains a close relationship with Biden. The moment also helps Macron burnish his image as the EU’s most visible and vocal leader, at a time when Europe is increasingly concerned that its economy will be indelibly weakened by the Ukraine war and resulting energy and inflation crises.
Macron and his wife, Brigitte, came to the U.S. bearing gifts carefully tailored to their American hosts, including a vinyl and CD of the original soundtrack from the 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme,” which the Bidens went to see on their first date, according to the palace.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden presented the Macrons with a mirror framed by fallen wood from the White House grounds and made by an American furniture maker. It is a reproduction of a mirror from the White House collection that hangs in the West Wing.
Biden also gave President Macron a custom vinyl record collection of great American musicians and an archival facsimile print of Thomas Edison’s 1877 Patent of the American Phonograph. The First Lady gave Mrs. Macron a gold and emerald pendant necklace designed by a French-American designer.
Harris will host Macron for a lunch at the State Department before the evening state dinner for some 350 guests, a glitzy gala to take place in an enormous tented pavilion constructed on the White House South Lawn.
Corbet reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Frank Jordans in Berlin and Chris Megerian, Colleen Long and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.