US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday demonstrated a united front in addressing the ongoing war in Ukraine but offered divergent answers over their willingness to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, relaying that they spent much their recent meeting discussing the invasion.
Biden told reporters during a joint White House news conference with Macron that he “has no immediate plans” to contact Putin, but added that he’s prepared to speak with the Russian leader if he’s looking for a way to end the war in Ukraine. Biden also clarified that Putin has not done so yet.
“He’s just miscalculated across the board,” Biden said of Putin following his bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with the French president. “And so the question is … how does he get himself out of the circumstances in? I’m prepared, if he’s willing to talk, to find out what he’s willing to do, but I’ll only do it in consultation with my NATO allies. I’m not going to do it on my own.”
Macron said that once Ukraine sets conditions for a peace agreement, he’s willing to speak with Putin. The French leader told ABC’s “Good Morning America” earlier Thursday that he intends to speak with the Russian president in the coming days.
Firm US support, Macron also relayed, “is very important, not just for the Ukrainians … but for the stability of our world today. Because if we consider that we can abandon the country and abandon the full respect of these principles, it means that there is no possible stability in this world,” pledging France’s own increased military, economic, and humanitarian support.
The French president’s trip to the White House alongside his spouse, Brigitte Macron, marks their second time as the guests of honor for a state visit, having first done so during Donald Trump’s administration in 2018. Thursday’s agenda for Biden’s first state visit since taking office has been filled with formal fanfare, with a list of events intended to highlight the strength of the critical relationship between the US and its oldest ally.
At the start of the news conference, Biden called the US and France the “strongest partners and our most capable allies,” taking care to note that “Emmanuel has also become a friend, as well as President of that great country.”
In his opening remarks, Macron praised Biden for fulfilling campaign commitments linked to addressing international challenges, saying “we’re being able to re-engage with you.”
“I can only tell you once again how pleased we were with your choices that very much matched your history and your campaign commitments. The fact that you’re back on international challenges such as health and climate – it is really a New Deal,” the French leader said.
Earlier Thursday morning, the Macrons had stepped onto the South Lawn of the White House for an official arrival ceremony, where a long slate of top French and US officials as well as thousands of other attendees greeted them. The pomp-filled program included military honors, a 21-gun salute, both countries’ national anthems, a review of troops and remarks by both leaders.
During the ceremony, Biden referred to the Macrons as “close friends,” remarking that it is a “genuine honor to host you for the first state visit of my administration and to celebrate the current strength and vitality between France and the United States of America.”
France, Biden said, is the United States’ “oldest ally” and an “unwavering partner,” referencing the history of the relationship from Lafayette to the beaches of Normandy. He said the alliance will “grow stronger for decades to come.”
Macron referenced common values of the US and France, referring to the nations as “sisters in the fight for freedom” and calling for their countries “to become brothers in arms once more” in the midst of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Macrons’ return for another state visit also follows a dramatic bounce-back in US-French relations compared to just a year ago, when 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 multi-billion dollar defense contract. The rift appears to largely be behind them, and Biden and Macron have deepened their ties even more over the last year in their united efforts to combat the war on Ukraine.
Elysée announced that Macron gave the president four gifts: a vinyl and CD of the soundtrack to the film the first couple saw on their first date – “Un Homme et une Femme”, a cup from the house Christofle symbolizing links between France and the US, a sweater from the House Saint James and a watch from LIP Horlogerie. He also gave the first lady copies of “Madame Bovary” and “The Plague, The Fall, Exile and the Kingdom, and Selected Essays.” He gifted Vice President Kamala Harris a model of the Ariane 5 rocket – a reference to common interests on space shared by the US and France.
The American president and first lady presented a custom mirror made of fallen wood from the White House grounds that’s a reproduction of a mirror that hangs in the West Wing, according to the White House. Additionally, the French president was gifted a custom vinyl collection of great American musicians along with “an archival facsimile print of Thomas Edison’s 1877 Patent of the American Phonograph,” the White House said. And the first lady gifted Mrs. Macron a pendant necklace designed by a French-American designer.
After the official arrival ceremony at the White House, Biden and Macron began bilateral discussions for an Oval Office meeting which lasted just under three hours. Kicking off the meeting, Biden reiterated the importance of the alliance.
“Things are changing rapidly, really rapidly. And it’s really important we stay in close communication. Doesn’t mean that every single solitary thing we agree on. That does mean we agree on almost everything,” he said, adding that they would work toward strengthening “security and prosperity.”
Macron said the Russian invasion in Ukraine will be one of their main topics of discussion and that “sustainable peace” is about respecting sovereign nations.
“We want to build peace and a sustainable peace means full respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine but at the same time a new architecture to make sure we have a sustainable peace in the long run,” Macron added.
US and French officials had not expected the visit to yield any major deliverables, but both sides see it as an opportunity for the two countries to deepen their partnership on a slew of global challenges. The two sides expected to advance working group discussions that were launched in the wake of last year’s submarine affair to step up cooperation on space, cyberspace and energy issues.
In a joint statement following their meeting, the two leaders “outlined a shared vision to strengthen security and increase prosperity worldwide, combat climate change, build greater resilience to its effects, and advance democratic values.”
Of particular note, the two leaders wrote they “strongly condemn Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine and stress that intentionally targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure constitutes war crimes whose perpetrators must be held accountable.”
On the Indo-Pacific, the two leaders pledge to “continue to coordinate on our concerns regarding China’s challenge to the rules-based international order, including respect for human rights, and to work together with China on important global issues like climate change.”
There are areas of disagreement that were expected to come up.
One of the biggest points of tension will be over billions of dollars in electric vehicle subsidies included in the Inflation Reduction Act, which applies only to those manufactured in North America. Macron has slammed the measure as protectionist and French officials said he intends to raise the issue in meetings with Biden and congressional leaders. During Thursday’s news conference, Biden confirmed that they discussed the matter in detail.
He said the US makes “no apologies” for the Inflation Reduction Act, but he admitted there were “some glitches” and changes that may need to be made to the law.
Macron agreed with Biden and reiterated his belief that they’re going to “resynchronize” and said he was not searching for an exemption for his economy but to “discuss the consequences of this legislation.”
In their joint statement, the US and France said they “reaffirm their shared goal of accelerating the global green energy transition. They look forward to the work of the U.S.-EU Taskforce on the Inflation Reduction Act to further strengthen the U.S.-EU partnership on clean energy and climate through mutually beneficial ways.”
Following their morning at the White House, Jill Biden and Brigitte Macron also visited Planet Word, a language-focused museum in Washington. President Macron also attended a lunch at the US State Department.
Thursday evening, the Macrons returned to the White House for the first state dinner of the Biden administration. French guests include film director Claude Lelouch, Louvre Museum Director Laurence des Cars and LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, according to the French official.
A White House list of state dinner attendees also included comedian Stephen Colbert, MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, fashion designer Christian Louboutin, Laurene Powell Jobs, ABC’s Robin Roberts, musician John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Vogue’s Anna Wintour, film director Baz Luhrmann, as well as actresses Jennifer Garner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Ariana DeBose. Biden family members, Cabinet members, politicians and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – including Republicans Steve Scalise and Kevin McCarthy – were also on the list of attendees. New Orleans native Jon Batiste is performing musical selections.
On Wednesday, Harris welcomed President Macron to NASA to celebrate the cooperation of both nations in space. The first family also held a private dinner with the Macrons ahead of Thursday’s formal state dinner.
During the last leg of their US visit, the Macrons will travel to New Orleans on Friday to highlight new efforts to expand French language education in the US.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.