Joe Biden used the first state visit of his presidency on Thursday to show unity with France’s Emmanuel Macron on Ukraine, a willingness to talk to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and assuage European anger over US subsidies.
US President and First Lady Jill Biden held a lavish, star-studded state dinner at the White House, with music by Jon Batiste and Chardonnay from the Napa Valley, in honor of President Macron and his wife Brigitte.
But Ukraine, the biggest assault on a European state since 1945, remained the most pressing problem for the leaders, who pledged to continue strong support and support Kiev through the harsh winter months.
Biden has so far resisted talks with Putin since the invasion was launched in February, while Macron has kept the lines of communication open. Russia calls the war a “special operation”.
“Let me choose my words very carefully,” Biden told a news conference with Macron. “I am willing to talk to Mr. Putin if indeed he has an interest in deciding that he is looking for a way to end the war. He hasn’t done that yet.”
For his part, Macron said he would continue to talk to Putin to “avoid escalation and get some very concrete results” such as the safety of nuclear power plants.
The two leaders also looked for ways to ease some economic tensions in Oval Office talks.
Biden promised Macron to make changes to US legislation passed by the US Congress this year that European countries fear will hurt their economies.
Bills aimed at boosting renewable energy in the US and the semiconductor industry have “breakdowns” that can be addressed, Biden said.
Macron voiced French and European concerns about Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a new $430 billion bill that provides huge subsidies for US-made products and aims to address the climate crisis and promote renewable energy.
At a Wednesday meeting with US lawmakers, Macron said the act was “super aggressive” towards European companies, a participant told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“France did not come here to ask for some exception for its economy. We came to share how the consequences of this regulation affect us,” he said on Thursday.
European leaders say the legislative package signed by Biden in August is unfair to non-US companies and would be a serious blow to their economies as Europe deals with the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
“There are tweaks we can make that could make it fundamentally easier for European countries to participate and or go it alone,” Biden said, adding that he and Macron had a lengthy discussion on the subject.
Macron said it was important for the United States and its European allies to resynchronize their approaches.
The leaders were making “great progress” in mitigating the impact, and Biden could use executive orders to give European allies the same level of exemptions on local content as countries with free trade agreements, a French finance ministry source said.
On Ukraine, the two leaders said in a joint statement that they would hold Russia accountable “for widely documented atrocities and war crimes committed by both its regular forces and its proxies”. Russia denies having committed war crimes.
They also pledged to coordinate their concerns about “China’s challenge to the rules-based international order, including respect for human rights, and to work with China on key global issues such as climate change.”
Pillow and lobster
Macron arrived in Washington on Tuesday for his second state visit to the United States since the French leader took office in 2017.
Biden, 80, and Macron, 44, have met many times at international meetings, but this was the longest time they spent together.
A glittering state dinner was scheduled for Thursday night, with 200 Maine lobsters flown in for the occasion.
Guests attending the formal event in a pavilion on the South Lawn of the White House included French fashion designer Christian Louboutin, whose shoes were featured on the TV show “Sex and the City”, American actress Julia Louis- Dreyfus, of the political satire comedy “Veep” and “Seinfeld,” and singer and “The Voice” coach John Legend. Read the full story
“Tonight we celebrate the enduring alliance between France and the United States,” Biden said as guests clinked their champagne glasses. “Vive la France and God bless America.”
Macron added that the two countries stem from “the same values” of “we, the people”.
The two leaders and their wives, who dined together informally at a restaurant on Wednesday, previously participated in an arrival ceremony at South Lawn that included a military guard of honor, a red-clad colonial band with the Fife and Drum Corps, and national anthems.
Among the gifts Macron brought was a vinyl and CD version of the original soundtrack to Claude Lelouch’s 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme,” the movie the Bidens went to see on their first date, according to the Elysee Palace .
The Bidens presented Macron with a custom mirror made from fallen wood from the White House grounds and a custom vinyl record collection from great American musicians.
On Friday, Macron is expected to visit New Orleans, which was once controlled by the French and still maintains French cultural ties, where he will meet with Louisiana’s governor and sign a memorandum of understanding on climate change.