WASHINGTON: US president Joe Biden and French president Emmanuel Macron presented a united front on Ukraine yesterday at the White House, and Biden said he would talk to Russian president Vladimir Putin if he is willing to end the invasion.
Biden has resisted talking to Putin since the Russian leader launched the invasion in February, while Macron has kept lines of communication with Putin open.
“Let me choose my words very carefully,” Biden told a news conference with Macron.
“I’m prepared to speak with Mr Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he’s looking for a way to end the war. He hasn’t done that yet.”
But Biden said he would only do this in consultation with his Nato allies and would do nothing that would harm Ukrainian interests.
“I’m not going to do it on my own,” he said.
Macron, for his part, said he would continue to talk to Putin to “try to prevent escalation and to get some very concrete results” such as the safety of nuclear plants.
Biden is playing host to Macron for the first state visit since the US president took power in early 2021.
Besides pledging support for Ukraine, the two leaders sought ways to ease some economic tensions in Oval Office talks.
Biden pledged to Macron to make changes to US legislation passed by the US Congress this year that European nations fear will harm their economies.
Bills aimed at boosting US renewable energy and the semiconductor industry have “glitches” that can be addressed, Biden said.
Macron raising French and European concerns about Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a new US$430 billion bill that offers massive subsidies for US-made products and is aimed at addressing the climate crisis and promoting renewable energy.
“France did not come here to ask for some kind of exception for its economy. We came to share how the consequences of this regulation impact us,” he said.
European leaders say the legislative package signed by Biden in August is unfair to non-American companies and would be a serious blow to their economies as Europe deals with the fallout from Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine.
“There are tweaks that we can make that can fundamentally make it easier for European countries to participate and or be on their own,” said Biden, adding he and Macron had had a long discussion about the topic.
Macron said it was important for the US and its European allies to “resynchronise” their approaches.
In a joint statement issued after their Oval Office talks, the two leaders said they were committed to holding Russia to account “for widely documented atrocities and war crimes, committed both by its regular armed forces and by its proxies” in Ukraine.
They also vowed to coordinate on their 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”.
Nato ministers met in Bucharest yesterday and pledged more aid to Ukraine to help against Russia’s attacks on energy infrastructure as winter bites.
The alliance, of which the US and France are founding members, was also discussing how to address challenges posed by China’s military buildup and its cooperation with Russia, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said.
Macron has said in the past that China should not be a focus for Nato.
Kisses and lobster
Macron and his wide, Brigitte, arrived in Washington on Tuesday for his second state visit to the US since the French leader took office in 2017.
Biden, 80, and Macron, 44, have had many meetings at international gatherings but this was the longest time they have spent together.
A glittering state dinner was planned later today, with 200 Maine lobsters flown in for the occasion.
Biden and his wife Jill greeted the Macrons with hugs, kisses and broad smiles as they celebrated more than 200 years of US-French relations.
The two leaders and their wives, who dined together informally at a restaurant on Wednesday, took part in a South Lawn arrival ceremony that featured a military honour guard, a red-jacketed colonial band with the Fife and Drum Corps and national anthems.
Among the gifts Macron brought was a vinyl and CD version of the original soundtrack of Claude Lelouch’s 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme”, the film the Bidens went to see on their first date, according to the Elysee Palace.
The Bidens presented Macron with a custom mirror made of fallen wood from the White House grounds and a custom vinyl record collection of great American musicians.
The formal dinner in a pavilion on the White House south lawn will feature music from Jon Batiste, Chardonnay from the Napa Valley and cheeses from Oregon, California and Wisconsin.