LEmmanuel Macron’s state visit to the United States, from November 29 to December 2, did not lead to any major progress, to any new initiative, but it did lead to an almost as important result: it gave the opportunity to reaffirm the vitally important bilateral partnership between France and the United States at a time when it is under severe strain.
Joe Biden surprised by reserving Emmanuel Macron the first state visit since his election. The White House has only hosted two in the past six years. One of them took place in 2018 and, already, Mr. Macron had had the honor of being the first foreign leader invited by Donald Trump.
By inviting the French president, Joe Biden may have intended to repair the damage of the 2021 Australian submarine affair which had taken Paris by surprise and led Emmanuel Macron to take the unprecedented decision to recall the French ambassador to Washington for consultations.
Before history and friendship
The American president himself called “clumsy” the way his administration had handled this affair [à la suite de l’annonce d’une nouvelle alliance stratégique entre Washington, Londres et Canberra baptisée Aukus – acronyme d’Australia, United Kingdom et United States – en septembre 2021, l’Australie avait rompu le contrat d’achat de douze sous-marins français signé en 2016].
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia relegated this diplomatic incident to the background. It has also made it even more essential for the White House to act in close collaboration with the Elysée. Transatlantic solidarity is impossible to preserve if Washington and Paris are at odds.
During the visit, the two presidents hailed the historic ties that unite their countries and showed mutual respect. The national interest, however, comes before history and friendship. The Aukus “affair” may have ceased to be a bone of contention in Franco-American relations, but other issues have taken their place.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the main reason for friction is not geopolitical. The two leaders took care to iron out any differences that might exist between them on Ukraine, without going back on their previous positions.
Emmanuel Macron, who had alarmed Washington by believing that the war would not be won on the battlefield, assured that Paris “would never push the Ukrainians to accept a compromise that would be unacceptable to them”. Biden, who had said Putin could not stay in power, said he was ready to speak with the Russian president if the latter “looking for a way to end the war”.
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