WASHINGTON (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Washington on Tuesday for the first state visit of Joe Biden’s presidency — a revival of diplomatic spectacles that have been suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The relationship between Biden and Macron got off to a rocky start. Macron briefly recalled France’s ambassador to the US last year after the White House announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, undermining France’s contract to sell diesel submarines.

But relations took a turn when Macron emerged as one of Biden’s most promising European allies in the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This week’s visit — which will include talks in the Oval Office, a lavish dinner, a press conference and more — comes at a critical time for both leaders.

The leaders have a long agenda for Thursday’s meeting at the White House, including Iran’s nuclear program, China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region and growing concerns about security and stability in Africa’s Sahel region, according to US and French officials. But the focus of their meeting in the Oval Office will be Russia’s war in Ukraine, as both Biden and Macron work to shore up economic and military support for Kiev, which is trying to push back against Russian forces.

The visit also comes as both Washington and Paris are keeping tabs on China after protests erupted in several mainland cities and Hong Kong over Beijing’s “zero COVID” strategy over the weekend. At a red-carpet arrival ceremony after landing in Washington on Tuesday evening, Macron ignored a reporter’s question about whether he and Biden planned to discuss the protests in China, China’s biggest public outcry in decades.

In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House of Representatives, where Republican Party leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday, after meeting with Biden and other congressional leaders, again promised that Republicans will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by rising costs of supporting Ukraine in the nine-month war and as Europe grapples with rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday called Macron a “dynamic leader” of America’s oldest ally, explaining Biden’s decision to honor the French president with the first state visit of his presidency.

The US tradition of honoring foreign heads of state dates back to Ulysses S. Grant, who hosted King David Kalakaua of the Kingdom of Hawaii for a 20-plus-course dinner at the White House, but the tradition has been suspended since 2019 due to COVID-19 concerns.

“If you look at what’s going on in Ukraine, what’s going on in the Indo-Pacific and the tensions with China, France is really at the center of all of those things,” Kirby said. “And that’s why the president thought that this is just the country from which to start state visits.”

Macron was also chosen by Republican Donald Trump to be the first foreign leader to be honored with a state visit during his term. A state visit in 2018 included a trip by the two leaders to Mount Vernon, Virginia by George Washington, America’s founding president.

French government spokesman Olivier Veran said Tuesday that Macron’s second state visit was a “strong symbol of the partnership between France and the United States.” It shows the “very strong ties” between the countries and comes at a time when the world is facing major international issues, including the war in Ukraine, food security, climate and energy, he said.

Veron added that there is a need to “re-synchronize” the agenda of the EU and the US to counter the crises, especially in energy and rising prices.

Macron has a packed day of meetings and appearances in and around Washington on Wednesday — including a visit to NASA headquarters with Vice President Kamala Harris and talks with Biden administration officials on nuclear energy.

Macron will hold a private meeting with Biden on Thursday, followed by a joint news conference and visits to the State Department and Capitol Hill before Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, are honored at a state dinner. Grammy winner John Baptiste should provide the entertainment. The White House spent days preparing for Macron’s arrival, setting up a large marquee on the South Lawn and decorating light poles bordering the White House complex with French flags.

Macron will travel to New Orleans on Friday, where he is expected to announce plans to expand programs to support the teaching of French in US schools, according to French officials.

Despite all this, there are still areas of tension in US-French relations.

Biden shied away from Macron’s calls for Ukraine to resume peace talks with Russia, which Biden has repeatedly said is a decision solely in the hands of Ukraine’s leadership.

Perhaps more pressing are the differences French and other European Union leaders have raised over Biden’s Deflation Act, sweeping legislation passed in August that includes historic spending on climate and energy initiatives. Macron and other leaders were condemned by a provision in the bill that would give tax breaks to consumers who buy electric cars made in North America.

France’s president, speaking out against subsidies, will stress that it is vital that “Europe, like the US, becomes stronger…not weaker” as the world emerges from the turmoil of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a senior French government official who told reporters on condition of anonymity to review the private negotiations.

Earlier this month, Macron said the subsidies could worsen the “level playing field” in trade with the EU and called aspects of Biden’s legislation “unfriendly.”

The White House, meanwhile, plans to counter that the legislation significantly helps the U.S. meet global efforts to curb climate change. The president and aides will also convince the French that the legislation will also create new opportunities for French companies and others in Europe, according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to review the talks.

Macron’s visit comes about 14 months after relations hit an all-time low after the US announced a deal to sell Australia nuclear submarines.

After announcing the secret deal, France briefly recalled its ambassador to Washington. A few weeks later, Macron met with Biden in Rome ahead of the Group of 20 summit, where the US president tried to rectify the situation, admitting that his administration had been “clumsy” in the way it handled the issue.

Macron’s visit with Harris to NASA headquarters on Wednesday will give the two countries an opportunity to showcase their cooperation in space.

In June, France signed the Artemis Agreement, a space cooperation plan that supports NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 and launch a historic human mission to Mars.

That same month, the U.S. joined a French initiative to develop new tools for climate change adaptation, the Space for Climate Observatory.


Corbet reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

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