In a return of diplomatic pomp that had been postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreak, French President Emmanuel Macron is traveling to Washington for the first state visit of Joe Biden's presidency.
The Biden-Macron friendship had a rocky beginning. After the White House revealed a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, weakening a contract for France to sell diesel-powered submarines, Macron momentarily recalled France's ambassador to the United States last year.
Macron has emerged as one of Biden's most proactive European partners in the West's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, though, and the dynamic has changed.
The visit this week, which will involve news conferences, a ritzy supper, and Oval Office discussions, comes at a crucial time for both leaders.
According to U.S. and French sources, the leaders' lengthy agenda for their meeting on Thursday at the White House includes Iran's nuclear program, China's growing aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific, and growing worries regarding the Sahel region of Africa's security and stability.
However, the main topic of discussion at their meeting in the Oval Office will be Russia's conflict in Ukraine, as both Biden and Macron try to sustain financial and logistical assistance for Kyiv as it fights against Russian soldiers.
Republicans are about to assume control of the House in Washington, and GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has stated that his party will not provide Ukraine with a "blank check." Across the Atlantic, Macron's efforts to keep Europe unified will be put to the test as Europe confronts rising energy prices that threaten to stall the post-pandemic economic recovery as well as the mounting costs of helping Ukraine in the nine-month war.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House, explained why Biden chose to pay Macron the first state visit of his presidency on Monday, calling him the "dynamic leader" of America's oldest friend.
Since Ulysses S. Grant entertained King David Kalakaua of the Kingdom of Hawaii for a more than 20-course White House supper, the United States has honored foreign heads of state. However, the tradition has been put on hold due to COVID-19 worries since 2019.
On Thursday, before he and his wife, Brigitte Macron, are honored at the state dinner, Macron will meet privately with Biden, have a joint news conference, and visit the State Department and Capitol Hill.
Grammy-winning musician Jon Batiste will perform too.
Macron will visit New Orleans on Friday, according to French officials, to unveil his ambitions to expand programs that will support the teaching of French in American classrooms.
Despite this, the relationship between the United States and France still has certain points of contention.
Biden has frequently stated that the decision to resume peace negotiations with Russia rests entirely with Ukraine's government; thus, he has refrained from endorsing Macron's calls for Ukraine to do so.
Differences over Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, extensive legislation passed in August that includes significant expenditure on climate and energy projects, have been highlighted by France and other leaders of the European Union, and these issues may be more urgent.
A clause in the law that offers tax benefits to customers who purchase electric vehicles made in North America has alarmed Macron and other leaders.
According to a senior French government official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity to preview private talks, the French president will emphasize that it's imperative for "Europe, like the U.S., to come out stronger... not weaker" as the world emerges from the turbulence of the pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Macron referred to parts of the Biden law as "unfriendly" and warned that the subsidies could change the "even playing field" in trade with the EU.
Meanwhile, the White House intends to argue that the law significantly advances American efforts to combat climate change. According to a senior Biden administration source who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity to preview the talks, the president and his aides would also make sure the French understood how the legislation would also open up new prospects for French businesses and others in Europe.
About 14 months after the relationship's low point, when the U.S. announced its agreement to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, Macron paid a visit.
The accord, which had been negotiated in secrecy, was revealed after France briefly withdrew its ambassador from Washington. A few weeks later, before the Group of 20 summits, Macron and Biden met in Rome. The American president tried to mend fences by admitting his administration had handled the situation "clumsily."
Wednesday's trip by Harris and Macron to NASA's headquarters will provide the two nations a chance to highlight their space cooperation.
The Artemis Accords, which support NASA's intentions to undertake a historic human mission to Mars and return people to the moon by 2024, were signed by France in June.