US, France celebrate renewed alliance

State dinner for Macron a nod to global realities

- Francesca Chambers and Michael Collins

WASHINGTON – French President Emmanuel Macron was so furious with the Biden administra­tion last fall over a submarine snub, he ordered his ambassador to the U.S. to return to Paris.

A year later, Macron himself is in Washington to be feted at a pomp-filled state dinner – the first of Joe Biden’s presidency and the second such invitation for the French leader. Macron was also the first foreign leader bestowed with the honor during the Trump administra­tion.

Both nations can attribute the détente in large part to Russia’s war on


Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine underscore­d the importance of the alliance and the need for solidarity between the U.S. and its oldest ally, said Célia Belin, a former adviser to the French foreign ministry.

“Ukraine is proving resilient, Europe is proving resilient, and the transatlan­tic bond is closer than ever,” said Belin, a Paris-based expert on U.S.-French relations and a nonresiden­t fellow for the Brookings Institute, a think tank in Washington.

The alliance between France and the United States dates back to the Revolution­ary War, a point both nations highlighte­d in the lead-up to the dinner. Biden and Macon will work to align their positions on Russia’s war against Ukraine and air their views on the United States’ approach to competitio­n with China and trade with European nations.

Tension arose last year when Australia cut a submarine deal with the U.S. and Britain and canceled a submarine purchase from France.

Transnatio­nal challenges such as the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis in Europe, the threat of a global recession and tension between the U.S. and China are far bigger than the diplomatic row that was the source of last year’s friction, said Gérard Araud, a former French diplomat who was served as ambassador to the United States under Macron.

“The issues today are so important, what is at stake is so important, that the Australian submarines business is not forgotten and not forgiven, but in a sense, it is a bit in the background,” Araud said.

Macron’s second state dinner under as many U.S. presidents is also a testament to France’s authority in Europe under his leadership. Amid political instabilit­y in the U.K., Brexit and leadership changes in the wealthy European nations of Italy and Germany, Macron has emerged as a global power player, fashioning himself as a conduit between the West and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

France has become the go-to partner for the United States, said Charles Kupchan, a former senior National Security Council aide to presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“And that’s in part because of Macron, who is an unusually bold and forward leaning leader in the European context,” Kupchan said, “and it’s in part because other potential partners aren’t quite as useful as they used to be.”

Macron has positioned France to provide what he has described as “dynamic balance” between the United States and China in their battle for global dominance.

A day after Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, Indonesia, on the margins of the G20 economic summit, Macron sat down with Xi. He said after the meeting that he believes China can play “a more important mediating role” in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and that he intends to make a trip to Beijing early next year.

France is the top military power in continenta­l Europe, and Macron is the longest-serving current leader of a major European nation, said Max Bergmann, a former senior State Department official and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and Internatio­nal Studies.

“There’s always been a level of mutual distrust and competitio­n between the United States and France, and our bureaucrac­ies haven’t always worked together well or trusted each other,” he said. “And I think the hope is that you can use a state dinner like this to really set the course for just broader trust building between our two government­s, and then that snowballs and it leads to other initiative­s and cooperatio­n, whether that’s over China and the IndoPacifi­c, whether that’s on climate, whether that’s on trade, on all sorts of other initiative­s.”

Ukraine a central focus of talks

Biden and Macron have a long list of topics to discuss when they hold formal talks during the state visit. Chief among them will be the economic and military measures the West has taken to bolster Ukraine and drain Putin’s resources.

European nations and the U.S. are racing to put a price ceiling in place for sales of Russian oil before a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 5. Macron would also like Biden to use the levers of government to apply additional pressure to American energy companies to reduce their prices, current and former French officials say.

The two nations’ pursuit of clean energy sources will also be on the agenda, including the role that nuclear production can play in their emissions-reduction efforts, a French official said, and Paris’ desire for more coordinate­d economic cooperatio­n in the wake of Democrats’ inflation reduction act.

Another issue that is expected to come up during the bilateral meeting between the two leaders is Marcon’s argument that Europe needs more of its own military power instead of relying so heavily on the U.S.

Macron has talked about the need to develop a stronger European defense industry, and the French would like U.S. backing for such a move and argue that a more robust European defense is in the U.S. interest.

“They don’t want to see the Americans fighting the strengthen­ing of the European defense industry,” Belin said.

The question, she said, is how much autonomy the Biden administra­tion is willing to give to Europe.

U.S. officials said that the while Macron’s visit to Washington is a working one, the formal affair is predominan­tly an exaltation of the nations’ shared history and deepening partnershi­p.

“While there are specific areas where we anticipate we’ll make progress during this visit, I want to stress that this visit really largely serves as a celebratio­n of the strong footing of this relationsh­ip – one that is well rooted in our history from the very beginnings of our country, while also oriented squarely toward the future,” John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinato­r for strategic communicat­ions, told reporters during a White House briefing.

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 ?? ALEX BRANDON/AP ?? French President Emmanuel Macron and Vice President Kamala Harris meet Wednesday at NASA headquarte­rs in Washington.
ALEX BRANDON/AP French President Emmanuel Macron and Vice President Kamala Harris meet Wednesday at NASA headquarte­rs in Washington.

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