08 June 2024

Biden calls France ‘first friend’ and enduring ally as he is honoured by Macron

08 June 2024

President Joe Biden said France was America’s “first friend” at its founding and is one of its closest allies more than two centuries later as he was honoured with a state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron

The event aimed at showing off their partnership on global security issues and easing past trade tensions.

Mr Biden and Mr Macron attended ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday and met separately the following day with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris.

The leaders both used those engagements used to underscore the urgent need to support Kyiv’s fight against Russia’s invasion.

But Mr Macron and Mr Biden have often chafed at the pace of support for Ukraine, especially as the United States, by far the largest contributor to Kyiv’s defence, was forced to pause aid shipments for months while congressional Republicans held up an assistance package.

The state visit began with a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, including a wreath-laying at France’s tomb of the unknown soldier, and a military parade along the Champs-Elysees leading to the Elysee Palace, where the two held official meetings and delivered public statements.

Mr Biden and Mr Macron put the war in Ukraine at the top of Saturday’s agenda, but it was the strength of the countries’ long alliance, fortified at Normandy 80 years ago but with roots far deeper, that was the centrepiece of the weekend.

Calling himself a student of French history, Mr Biden said the visit was a “great honour” and he noted that America’s ties to France date to the Revolutionary War.

“France was our first friend,” Mr Biden said. “It remains one of our best friends.”

Mr Macron praised Mr Biden as not just the leader of a world power but also for bringing the “clarity and loyalty of a partner that loves and respects the Europeans”.

It appeared to be a subtle criticism of former president Donald Trump, whose “America First” foreign policy has shaken European leaders.

They are now contending, gingerly, with the possibility of his return to power next year should the presumptive Republican nominee defeat the Democratic incumbent in November’s election.

Mr Macron hosted Mr Trump for Bastille Day in 2017, and the French president came to Washington for a state visit in 2018 before their relationship soured.

Despite disagreements over whether to send allies trainers onto Ukrainian soil to support the country’s defence against Russia’s invasion, Mr Macron insisted that “I think we see eye to eye on this war raging in Ukraine”.

He tempered his previous concerns about US commitment to Europe — which he has used to argue that the continent must do more to provide for its own defence — to praise Mr Biden’s leadership: “Thank you for being at Europe’s side.”

Mr Macron expressed hope that when the Group of Seven leaders meet this coming week in Italy they will agree to a 50 billion dollars “solidarity fund” for Ukraine that will be backed by sanctioned Russian assets.

The French leader raised the issue of US trade practices that he has often criticised, including the Inflation Reduction Act, which favours American-made climate technology such as electric vehicles.

Mr Macron said the US, like China, has “decided not to respect the rules of global trade” by shoring up protections and subsidies while Europe’s industry remains open and is stuck in over-regulation.

As the pair met outside the palace, Mr Biden appeared to suggest to his host that that the US and Europe could “co-ordinate together,” and he was heard telling Mr Macron about his most recent conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was objecting to steep US tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles.

Mr Biden hosted Mr Macron in December 2022 at the White House for the first state visit of his presidency as the Covid-19 pandemic receded.

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