Biden heralds close US-France ties as he’s treated to a state visit

President Joe Biden heralded the close ties between the United States and France on Saturday, calling his current visit “the most remarkable trip” that he’s made to the country as French President Emmanuel Macron hosted his US counterpart for an official state visit in Paris.

“This week, we have once again showed the world … the power of allies, what we can achieve when we stand together. That’s what the relationship between France and the United States exemplifies,” Biden said in remarks with Macron from the Élysée Palace.

The visit comes as the US has strengthened its alliance with its oldest ally amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, even as some signs of fissures have emerged over the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East.

“When we stand as one, our countries are stronger and literally, the world is safer,” Biden said during a state dinner later Saturday. “We stand at an inflection point in history. The decisions we make now will determine the course of our future for decades to come.”

The state visit began with Macron and French first lady Brigitte Macron welcoming Biden and first lady Jill Biden with a formal ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, a Paris landmark.

The leaders paid their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and placed the end of a large sword into the eternal flame. A French military choir performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed by “La Marseillaise.” Biden and Macron observed a flyover before greeting officials from a French delegation as bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.”

The Bidens and Macrons signed a guestbook before boarding their respective vehicles, which drove slowly down the Champs-Élysées, flanked by military personnel and American and French flags. The normally bustling Parisian thoroughfare was emptied of pedestrians, with significant road closures affecting the area.

Biden described Saturday’s arrival ceremony as a “moving experience.”

“It was a moving experience for a student of history to be at the Champs Élysée today – that was a moving experience for us, the whole delegation,” he said.

Biden and Macron participate in a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe on June 8, 2024. - Evan Vucci/AP
Biden and Macron participate in a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe on June 8, 2024. - Evan Vucci/AP

Upon arriving at the Élsyée Palace, the French president’s official residence, the leaders posed for photos before beginning a working lunch. In the evening, the Macrons welcomed the Bidens back to the palace for a state dinner.

Macron is returning the favor to Biden, who hosted the French president for a state visit at the White House in December 2022, the administration’s first.

Biden noted that the US celebrates Independence Day, the Fourth of July, next month.

“That feat would not have been possible … were it not for France coming to our aid. We’re a nation because of France, in large part. You stepped up when we needed help,” he said.

France, Biden said, “was our first friend. Remains one of our best friends.”

“Today, I proudly stand with France and support freedom and democracy around the world. That’s what this spectacular week is all about,” he said.

There has been much for the leaders to discuss.

Macron, like other US allies, has privately questioned the future of US leadership in the world should Biden lose the November election to former President Donald Trump, with whom he had a more complicated relationship.

Biden has frequently recalled meeting with world leaders early in his term during a G7 gathering where he pronounced, “America is back.”

“And the French leader looked at me, and he said, ‘For how long?’” Biden said to laughter at a March fundraiser in New York City. “It wasn’t humorous. He said – he was serious, ‘For how long?’”

Biden has often pointed to those anxieties among his counterparts as he makes the case for a second term, though Europe has also had to contend with its own rising tide of populism.

On the topic of Ukraine, both countries have touted their support for the war-torn country. Biden on Friday announced a new $225 billion aid package while apologizing to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the congressional delay.

And for his part, Macron has been one of the key leaders in Europe’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. France has doubled its defense budget, announced it would surpass NATO’s 2% defense spending benchmark and restarted domestic production of critical military inputs.

Biden pointed to both countries’ support for Ukraine as an example of their close relationship.

“We know what happens if (Russian President Vladimir) Putin succeeds in subjugating Ukraine. … And we know Putin isn’t going to stop at Ukraine – it’s not just Ukraine, it’s about much more than Ukraine. All of Europe will be threatened. We’re not gonna let that happen,” Biden said.

On the Israel-Hamas war, Macron endorsed a ceasefire proposal laid out by Biden, writing in a post on X last week, “The war in Gaza must end. We support the US proposal for a durable peace.”

But France broke with Western allies last month as its Foreign Ministry expressed support for the International Criminal Court’s decision to seek an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. Biden had called the ICC’s decision “outrageous.”

Both Macron and Biden on Saturday welcomed the news of the rescue of four Israeli hostages who were taken captive by Hamas on October 7, with Biden using the moment to press for the ceasefire proposal he detailed last week.

“We won’t stop working until all the hostages are home and a ceasefire is reached,” the president said.

The US-French relationship has dramatically improved from a low point early in the Biden administration. In September 2021, Macron took the extraordinary step of recalling his ambassador to Washington over a US-Australia submarine deal that blindsided the French and cost them a multibillion-dollar defense contract. 

“They have a warm and close relationship,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Friday evening. “One of the things the president respects and admires about President Macron is he’s as honest and forthright as President Joe Biden is. That’s what he wants to see in a friend, in an ally.”

Biden and Macron were also set to discuss deepening maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, with an announcement expected to build law enforcement capacity and increase US-France technical cooperation on port security, Kirby said.

“I think you’ll see that we are as close as we have ever been with our French allies,” Kirby added.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Kayla Tausche and Xiaofei Xu contributed to this report

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