France’s President Macron heads to US for wide-ranging state visit

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron heads to Washington on Tuesday to discuss a slew of issues with United States counterpart Joe Biden, ranging from aligning policy on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to easing trade spats.

Mr Macron, in a rare honour the first French leader to be invited for two US state visits, can look forward to another 21-gun salute and ostentatious White House dinner that ex-president Donald Trump provided in 2018.

His travelling entourage of foreign, defence and finance ministers, as well as business leaders and astronauts, illustrates the range of transatlantic cooperation Paris hopes to push forward.

But one senior American official told AFP that while there might be concrete “progress” in some fields, “this visit is about the personal relationship, the alliance relationship” with France.

“There are enormous opportunities to cooperate between the Biden administration and the Macron government,” said Martin Quencez, deputy director of the Paris office of think-tank GMF. “But for various reasons, cooperation and coordination haven’t gone as far as one might imagine”.

The tone between Paris and Washington has calmed since a year ago, when the United States snatched a lucrative contract to supply Australia with submarines from under French noses – and launched a new US-United Kingdom-Australia alliance in the Pacific, dubbed AUKUS, that excluded France.

This week’s visit could be seen as the capstone of US efforts to placate a Nato ally which is one of the strongest voices calling for European “strategic autonomy”, said Celia Belin, a researcher at the Brookings Institution.

“The French aren’t always easy to manage, but when the French and the Americans agree, that moves things forward a great deal.”

‘Not on the same page’

As things stand, however, “we are not allies on the same page,” one adviser to Mr Macron told AFP, promising “challenging” talks with Mr Biden.

Despite his support for Kyiv, Mr Macron’s insistence on continuing to talk with Moscow throughout Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised American hackles.

Another adviser told reporters last week that Mr Macron would speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin soon – but not until after his US visit.

The conversation comes just as some US officials including Pentagon chief Mark Milley have raised the possibility of a negotiated peace.

Mr Putin’s war has also set France and the United States at odds on the economy, intensifying existing disagreements over issues like the green transition and competing with China.

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