Ukraine dominates President Biden's state visit to France

Ukraine dominates President Biden's state visit to France

President Joe Biden is being feted by French President Emmanuel Macron with a state visit Saturday as the two allies aim to show off their partnership on global security issues and move past trade tensions.

Biden and Macron attended ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday and met separately the following day with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Paris. The leaders both used those engagements used to underscore the urgent need to support Kyiv's fight against Russia's invasion.

But Macron and Biden have often chafed at the pace of support for Ukraine, especially as the United States, by far the largest contributor to Kyiv's defence, was forced to pause aid shipments for months while congressional Republicans held up an assistance package.

The state visit began with a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, including a wreath-laying at France's tomb of the unknown soldier, and a military parade along the Champs Elysées leading to the Elysée Palace, where the two held official meetings and were delivering public statements. Later, there is a state dinner at the palace for Biden and his wife, Jill.

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and US President Joe Biden rekindle the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier during a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, Saturday Ju
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and US President Joe Biden rekindle the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier during a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, Saturday Ju - Ludovic Marin/AP

“Proud to be here," Biden said at the Arc de Triomphe. "A great honour.”

Biden hosted Macron in December 2022 at the White House for the first state visit of his presidency as the COVID-19 pandemic receded.

Jill Biden flew back to Paris aboard a U.S. government plane after spending Friday in Delaware to support their son, Hunter Biden, who is standing trial on federal gun charges.

As the president's trip draws to a close, the far right is likely to emerge as one of the biggest winners in Sunday's European Parliament election while Macron’s pro-European Union movement is flagging.

A top French official said Macron and Biden have a friendly and warm relationship and stressed that the U.S. president is spending five days in France, reflecting the importance he attaches to the visit. The official spoke anonymously, in line with customary practices for Macron's office.

The official said the U.S. presidential campaign was not a factor in the discussion.

Macron hosted then-President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee this year, for Bastille Day in 2017, and he came to Washington for a state visit in 2018 before their relationship soured.

U.S. and French officials said Ukraine would be at the top of Saturday's agenda, but the centrepiece of the weekend event would be the strength of the alliance, fortified at Normandy 80 years ago, but with roots far deeper.

“It's probably a good thing for us to remember that we didn’t win our independence either without some foreign help or foreign assistance, specifically from France,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Friday.

Max Bergmann, a former U.S. State Department official who leads Europe research at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S.-French relationship is strong despite occasional disagreements.

“There’s always tension in Franco-American relations because the French try to do stuff," he said. "They’re bold, they throw up proposals, and that leads to some friction when we push back.”

For example, he said, France proposed putting Western trainers on the ground in Ukraine, leading to questions of whether this is “really giving Ukraine a major, tangible benefit” or has the “potential to be escalatory and dangerous.”

Regarding Macron, Bergmann said, “he’s the one that pushes the boundaries and throws up ideas.”

While praising the Biden administration’s commitment to supporting Ukraine, Macron said earlier this year that Europe must become “capable of defending its interests, with its allies by our side whenever they are willing, and alone if necessary," arguing the continent should rely less on the U.S. for its own defence.

He also warned Western powers against showing any signs of weakness to Russia as he repeatedly said that sending Western troops into Ukraine to shore up its defence should not be ruled out.