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 equally important result: it allowed the confirmation of the crucially important bilateral partnership between France and the United States at a time when it is under serious strain.
Joe Biden surprised by booking Emmanuel Macron’s first state visit since the 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 the honor of being the first foreign leader invited by Donald Trump.
By inviting the French president, Joe Biden could have intended to repair the damage of the Australian submarine affair in 2021, which had caught Paris by surprise and prompted Emmanuel Macron to take the unprecedented decision to recall the French ambassador to Washington for consultation.
Before history and friendship
The US president called himself “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].
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine relegated this diplomatic incident to the background. It has also made it even more important for the White House to act in close cooperation with the Elysée. Transatlantic solidarity is impossible to maintain if Washington and Paris disagree.
During the visit, the two presidents paid tribute to the historical ties that unite their countries and showed mutual respect. However, the national interest comes before history and friendship. The Aukus “affair” may have ceased to be a point of contention in Franco-American relations, but other issues have taken their place.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the main cause of friction is not geopolitical. The two leaders took care to iron out any differences that might exist between them on Ukraine without going back to their previous positions.
Emmanuel Macron, who had alarmed Washington by believing the war would not be won on the battlefield, assured that Paris “would never pressure 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 talk to the Russian president if he “look for a way to end the war”.
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