The title of this article is borrowed from remarks that US President Joe Biden delivered at the first state dinner of his first mandate as president on 2 December in honour of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was paying a state visit to the US as the first foreign leader to make such a visit since Biden became president in January 2021.
The US president called France one of America’s “strongest partners… and most capable allies.” The two presidents also showed a great deal of camaraderie during various events on Macron’s programme, including at the joint press conference after their talks or during the official banquet at the White House.
The two men spoke in their public remarks about their shared commitment to freedom, dating back to the French support for the American struggle for independence and freedom from the British during the American Revolution at the end of the 18th century.
Their statements showed identical positions on the major international questions and challenges of today, foremost amongst them the war in Ukraine. The two leaders re-affirmed their full support for Ukraine. According to Biden, France and the US, together with [their] allies “stand as strong as ever against Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine.”
Macron reiterated French support for the Ukrainians in their military confrontation with the Russian forces and announced that the French government would host an international conference in support of Ukraine on 13 December in Paris.
In the meantime, the two leaders, while they demonstrated a commitment to keep providing all forms of support to Ukraine, nevertheless discussed an end to the war and peace between Russia and Ukraine, as they explained during their joint press conference on 1 December.
In their public pronouncements, they made it clear that they will not push the Ukrainian government to negotiate peace with Russia against Ukrainian interests and conditions. Biden said that “we will never urge the Ukrainians to make a compromise which will not be acceptable for them” and added that “if we want a sustainable peace, we have to respect the Ukrainians to decide the moment and the conditions in which they will negotiate about their territory and their future.”
Speaking about how the war could end, Biden said that “there is one way for this war to end, the rational way, [and for] Putin to pull out of Ukraine.” However, he said that he would be prepared to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin if the latter showed any interest in looking for a way “to end the war.” In this case, he would be happy to sit down with Putin to see what “he wants,” a step that would be taken in consultation with France and the US’ NATO allies.
For his part, the French president paid tribute to the ten-point plan for peace that Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has recently announced and stated that “we need to work on what could lead to a peace agreement.”
As far as the question of how and under what conditions the war in Ukraine might end, I guess the bases for this have now been framed diplomatically in the US-French summit in Washington. This was a message addressed to the warring parties in Ukraine that peace is possible and that the Western powers are ready to talk. I would not call this a breakthrough, but it is a significant step forward.
The discussions between the US and French presidents covered, among other major international questions, the situation in the Middle East and the fight against terrorism in the region. It was surprising, and I would argue disappointing, that the situation on the West Bank and the Palestinian question was not mentioned.
The two leaders pledged to work “together to support a Middle East that’s more integrated, peaceful, and prosperous.” It was not clear how this could be achieved without dealing with the stalled peace process.
The discussions also touched on US-French cooperation in Africa as well as in the Indo-Pacific region. As far as Africa is concerned, the French president said that his country would host a conference next summer in order to build what he called “a new partnership” between the North and the South. The aim would be to discuss providing more resources to the developing countries, as well as looking at ways of reforming the major international financial institutions.
Macron pledged to continuing working with the US in fighting terrorism in the Middle East and the Sahel in Africa.
The state visit of the French president to the US, his second, the first having taken place in 2018 during the administration of former president Donald Trump, proved that the French leader has become the voice of Europe in Washington and a major US ally in dealing with questions of war and peace in the world today, extending from Europe to the Asia-Pacific and passing through the Middle East, Africa, the Gulf, and the Indian Ocean.
More importantly, he has become a credible negotiating partner with Putin’s Russia to pave the way for serious peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and later on between Russia and the West.
It is significant that the French president in speaking about the war in Ukraine brought up the question of security guarantees to Russia in any future peaceful settlement of the war. Maybe , the Biden administration is in favor of discussing this important question when peace negotiations take place in the foreseeable future.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly