Biden, Macron close ranks on Russia, China during state visit

AFP , Thursday 1 Dec 2022

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron emerged from White House talks Thursday pledging to close ranks in helping Ukraine defend itself from Russia and in facing the "challenge" posed by China.

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron walk down the Colonnade at the White Hou
US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron walk down the Colonnade at the White House in Washington, DC, on December 1, 2022. AFP


The leaders issued a joint statement following Oval Office talks during Macron's state visit, which Biden said demonstrated their countries' "unwavering" alliance.

They "outlined a shared vision to strengthen security and increase prosperity worldwide, combat climate change, build greater resilience to its effects, and advance democratic values," the statement said.

The two reaffirmed "support for Ukraine's defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, including the provision of political, security, humanitarian, and economic assistance to Ukraine for as long as it takes."

"They also reiterate their steadfast resolve to hold Russia to account for widely documented atrocities and war crimes," the statement added.

On China, they said "the United States and France will continue to coordinate on our concerns regarding China's challenge to the rules-based international order, including respect for human rights, and to work together with China on important global issues like climate change."

They also expressed "respect for the Iranian people, in particular women and youth, who are bravely protesting to gain the freedom to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, which Iran itself has subscribed to and is violating."

21 gun salute

Despite tensions over transatlantic trade, Macron took pains to emphasize their countries' deep historic ties and the current partnership in confronting Russia's Ukraine invasion. "We need to become brothers in arms once more," Macron said as he was welcomed to the White House.

Service members from the marines, army, air force and even a detachment of soldiers in 18th-century Revolutionary War garb paraded in front of the White House. Artillery fired off a 21-gun salute, sending puffs of white smoke into the clear, chilly December sky.

Standing on a red-carpeted podium with Macron, Biden said "France is our oldest ally, our unwavering partner in freedom's cause."

The visit certainly symbolized how Washington and Paris have buried last year's bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favor of acquiring US nuclear subs instead.

However, Macron has made clear, in unusually blunt language, that he wants to confront Biden over the issue of trade.

Trade dispute

On his first day of the visit Wednesday, when he toured NASA headquarters, Arlington National Cemetery and met US lawmakers, the French leader surprised his hosts with a bitter attack on Biden's signature policy to boost the US green economy, saying it would "kill" European jobs.

The legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act or IRA, is set to pour billions of dollars into environmentally friendly industries, with strong backing for US-based manufacturers. The White House touts the IRA as a groundbreaking effort to reignite US manufacturing and promote renewable technologies, while breaking Chinese dominance in the field.

However, European Union governments are crying foul, threatening to launch a trade war by subsidizing their own green economy sector.

Macron told Biden it is "extremely important precisely to have close coordination" as the US and EU forge ahead in the booming green economy.

Working towards a carbon neutral economy means "creating a lot of jobs, which means investing a lot in our economies, and we have to synchronize our action," he said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted that US advances in clean energy will help Europeans too, saying: "This is not a zero-sum game."

And in their joint statement, Biden and Macron pledged that a US-European Union task force would aim to further strengthen their "partnership on clean energy and climate through mutually beneficial ways."

Menu and music

Aside from the trade dispute fireworks, most of the visit revolves around kindling the long, if often slightly prickly US-French diplomatic friendship.

The state dinner at the White House will return grand-scale entertainment to Washington in a way not seen since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the capital's typically busy schmoozing scene.

Grammy-award-winning American musician Jon Batiste will perform at the banquet, which the White House said will kick off with butter-poached Maine lobster, paired with caviar, delicata squash raviolo and tarragon sauce.

The main course features beef and triple-cooked butter potatoes, before leading to the cheese course of award-winning US brands, and finally orange chiffon cake, roasted pears with citrus sauce and creme fraiche ice cream.

Washing all that down will be three different wines -- all from US vineyards.

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