Macron hosts Biden for a state visit heavy on pomp, circumstance and war

MSN  08th Jun 2024

PARIS — President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron plan to meet Saturday for a state visit that will be heavy on pomp, circumstance and history, while also forcing the two men to confront pressing global matters including two wars and other issues that have exposed rifts between the U.S. and its oldest ally.

Biden’s five-day trip to France, which thus far has focused on commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day, now shifts to address modern-day challenges, with intractable conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza dominating the agenda.

Amid a lavish state dinner at the Élysée Palace and a military parade down the Champs-Élysées, Biden and Macron will spend considerable time in meetings with their top aides trying to find consensus on key matters of policy. The two men will join for a working lunch, hold a bilateral meeting and deliver statements to the press.

“One of the things the president respects and admires so much about President Macron is that he's as honest and as forthright as Joe Biden is,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “That's what he wants to see in a friend and an ally — an ability to shoot straight, say what's on your mind.”

Macron’s willingness to speak candidly — occasionally publicly breaking with the U.S. on key matters — has at times caused headaches for U.S. officials.

Macron has floated sending NATO troops into Ukraine to battle Russia even as Biden has repeatedly declared that no U.S. service members will partake in that war. He has expressed outrage over Israel’s assault on Gaza, calling for an immediate and permanent cease-fire even as Biden has maintained his staunch support for the Israelis. He has openly warned that Europe needed to assert more control over its own affairs rather than relying on leadership from the U.S., where political turbulence in recent years has rendered Washington less effective.

“However strong our alliance with America is, we are not a priority for them” Macron said in April during a speech on Europe at Sorbonne University. “They have two priorities: themselves — fair enough — and China.”

U.S. officials say that despite the differences, the bilateral relationship remains as strong as ever, and the alignment between Washington and Paris will be on full display during the state visit. And with key elections set to take place in both countries this year, Biden and Macron are aligned in their desire to beat back the advancement of right-wing nationalist impulses in their nations, represented by former president Donald Trump in the U.S. and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France.

Biden and Macron plan to make announcements on deepening maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, expanding their collaboration on humanitarian projects and disaster response and deepening their partnership on climate issues, Kirby said. The two men held separate meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris on Friday, and their public statements afterward revealed the gap that exists between the U.S. and France on how best to halt Russia’s advances in Ukraine.

Biden apologized to Zelensky for the delay in the U.S. aid package for Kyiv, blaming Republican lawmakers for holding up the desperately needed funding. He pledged an additional $225 million in military support and said more funds would be on the way to help Ukraine defend itself.

“I assure you the United States is going to stand with you,” Biden said. “You are the bulwark against the aggression that’s taken place. We have an obligation to be there.”

While Biden was speaking metaphorically, Macron has increasingly leaned into the idea that Western troops should physically be there and stand with Ukrainian soldiers on their soil.

Macron said Friday that a coalition of countries had agreed to send military trainers to Ukraine, raising the prospect that troops from NATO nations will soon be in the war-torn country.

“We are going to use the coming days to finalize a coalition, as broad as possible,” he said.

Biden has long rejected the prospect of putting American troops on the ground in Ukraine, a position he has held from the beginning of the conflict and one aides say he is unlikely to change. Biden has expressed concern about escalating the war with Russia or provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin to broaden the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.

The war in Gaza will also be on the agenda during the bilateral meeting. Macron has increasingly expressed his concern about Israel’s conduct, calling recent deadly attacks in Rafah unacceptable and urging a cease-fire. Biden, who has grown more isolated on the world stage as he has stood by Israel, will use his meeting to tout his recent proposal for achieving a cease-fire, which would require Hamas militants to release hostages being held in Gaza.

Biden has largely avoided talking about the situation in Gaza since landing in France on Wednesday, instead focusing on the war in Ukraine as he has drawn comparisons between World War II and the largest war in Europe since then.

Biden has had limited engagements with the press during his trip and will not be holding a news conference, which is traditionally a component of state visits and foreign trips by U.S. presidents.

Macron, who at 46 is significantly younger than the U.S. president and represents a brasher brand of politics, has become a key figure in the 81-year-old Biden’s presidency.

On the campaign trail, Biden often tells the story of one of his first meetings with Macron, during a Group of Seven Nations meeting in 2021, to drive home a point about the importance of keeping Trump from returning to the White House. During the meeting, Biden says, he sat down before the other world leaders and declared “America is back.”

“And Macron looked at me and said, ‘For how long? For how long?’” Biden said at a recent fundraiser.

Biden and Macron plan to meet again next week at the G-7 meeting in Italy and next month at the NATO summit in Washington.

“These are not two men that are strangers to one another,” said Kirby. “And they’re not two men that are afraid to speak their minds. But that they may not see every issue perfectly the same way doesn’t mean that the relationship is weaker or hindered or in any way set back.”