US President Joe Biden welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House

Washington (AFP) - President Joe Biden greeted President Emmanuel Macron at the White House on Thursday with full-scale military honors and a pledge to uphold the “unwavering” US-French alliance ahead of talks on Ukraine, China and a looming trade dispute.

Service members from the marines, army, air force and even a detachment of soldiers in 18th-century Revolutionary War garb paraded in front of the White House. Artillery fired off a 21-gun salute, sending puffs of white smoke into the clear, chilly December sky.

Standing on a red-carpeted podium with Macron, Biden said “France is our oldest ally, our unwavering partner in freedom’s cause.”

Like Biden, Macron noted that the two countries had stood side by side through many wars. Referring to the Western alliance helping Ukraine to confront the Russian invasion, Macron said “we need to become brothers in arms once more.”

Sitting by a cozy fire in the Oval Office, Macron also said the “first topic” of talks would be Ukraine, which is now in its 10th month of war, with mammoth economic and security spillover for Europe and the United States.

But Macron also highlighted he wanted to raise a thorny dispute on US-EU trade, pleading for “synchronization” to avoid conflict.

- Will US ‘kill’ EU jobs? -

The visit certainly symbolizes how Washington and Paris have buried last year’s bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favor of acquiring US nuclear subs instead.

However, Macron has made clear, in unusually blunt language, that he wants to confront Biden over the issue of trade.

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcome French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron to the White House

On his first day of the visit Wednesday, when he toured NASA headquarters, Arlington National Cemetery and met US lawmakers, the French leader surprised his hosts with a bitter attack on Biden’s signature policy to boost the US green economy, saying it would “kill” European jobs.

On Thursday, right before arriving at the White House, he repeated his criticism in an ABC television interview where he said Biden’s policy would remove “a level playing field.”

The legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act or IRA, is set to pour billions of dollars into environmentally friendly industries, with strong backing for US-based manufacturers. The White House touts the IRA as a groundbreaking effort to reignite US manufacturing and promote renewable technologies, while breaking Chinese dominance in the field.

The visit symbolizes how Washington and Paris have buried last year's bitter spat over the way Australia pulled out of a French submarine deal in favor of acquiring US nuclear subs instead

However, European Union governments are crying foul, threatening to launch a trade war by subsidizing their own green economy sector.

Macron told Biden it is “extremely important precisely to have close coordination” as the US and EU forge ahead in the booming green economy.

Working towards a carbon neutral economy means “creating a lot of jobs, which means investing a lot in our economies, and we have to synchronize our action,” he said.

US advances in the clean energy economy will help Europeans too, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted.

The IRA “presents significant opportunities for European firms as well as benefits to EU energy security. This is not a zero-sum game.”

- Menu and music -

Aside from the trade dispute fireworks, most of the visit revolves around kindling the long, if often slightly prickly US-French diplomatic friendship.

The color scheme at the White House state dinner will be red, white, blue

The state dinner at the White House will return grand-scale entertainment to Washington in a way not seen since the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the capital’s typically busy schmoozing scene.

Grammy-award-winning American musician Jon Batiste will perform at the banquet, which the White House said will kick off with butter-poached Maine lobster, paired with caviar, delicata squash raviolo and tarragon sauce.

The main course features beef and triple-cooked butter potatoes, before leading to the cheese course of award-winning US brands, and finally orange chiffon cake, roasted pears with citrus sauce and creme fraiche ice cream.

Washing all that down will be three different wines – all from US vineyards.