French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Washington in early December for the first state visit of President Joe Biden's tenure, an occasion marked by pomp and pageantry that is designed to celebrate relations between the United States and its closest allies.
The Dec. 1 visit, following the U.S. midterm elections and the Thanksgiving holiday, will be the second state visit for Macron, who was first elected to lead his country in May 2017 and won a second term earlier this year. Macron also had a state visit during the Trump years.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced the visit Monday, saying it will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship with France, our oldest ally.” It will be the first time the White House has hosted a world leader for a state visit since the coronavirus outbreak.
The invitation comes as a sign that relations between Biden and Macron have come full circle. The relationship tanked last year after the United States announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia. The decision by the U.S. undermined a deal that had been in place for France to sell diesel-powered submarines to Australia.
After the announcement of the deal, which was born out of a new security agreement between the U.S., Australia and Britain, France briefly recalled its ambassador to Washington, Philippe Etienne, to Paris. Biden also sought to patch thing up with France by eventually acknowledging to Macron that his administration had been “clumsy” in how it handled the issue.
The Biden administration since has heaped praise on Macron for being among the most vociferous Western allies in condemning Russia's 7-month-old war in Ukraine and pressing broad sanctions on the Russian economy and officials close to President Vladimir Putin.
Central to Biden’s pitch for the presidency was a vow to restore America's global leadership after four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” worldview. But Biden has acknowledged that Macron and other allies remain skeptical about whether he can make good on robust U.S. leadership worldwide.
Biden is fond of telling the story of how, at a world leader meeting he attended soon after taking office, he declared that “America is back.” He says his counterparts, starting with Macron, countered by asking, "For how long?”
Macron also was the first world leader to earn a state visit under Trump, though their relationship later became fractious.
The French leader had sought to cultivate a close partnership with Trump and hosted the Republican in 2017 for Bastille Day celebrations in Paris. Trump reciprocated with Macron's state visit.
But the relationship soured after Trump pulled U.S. troops from Syria without coordinating with France and other NATO allies. Trump disparaged NATO.
In one of their last face-to-face encounters, at a gathering of NATO leaders in London in 2019, Trump and Macron hardly hid their frustration with each other.
Not long before that meeting, Macron had complained that the alliance was suffering “brain death” caused by diminished U.S. leadership under Trump. Trump snapped back after a meeting with Macron that the French leader had made “very, very nasty” and “disrespectful” comments.
When Macron visited in April 2018, Trump and his wife, Melania, planned a double date with Macron and his wife, Brigitte, at Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of George Washington, America’s founding president.
The couples helped plant a tree on the White House lawn before they departed on a helicopter tour of monuments built in a capital city designed by French-born Pierre L’Enfant as they flew south to Mount Vernon, situated along the Potomac River. Macron was welcomed at the White House the next day with a booming 21-gun salute, his first Oval Office meeting with Trump, a joint news conference with the president and a state dinner for 150 guests in the White House State Dining Room.
Scott Morrison, then the prime minister of Australia, also came on a state visit at Trump's invitation in September 2019. Trump had announced a third state visit, by Spain's King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, but it was postponed due to the pandemic and could not be held before Trump lost reelection in 2020.
President Barack Obama also afforded France the honor of a state visit, in 2014.
Obama and French President Francois Hollande celebrated ties between their nations by touring Monticello, the sprawling Charlottesville, Virginia, estate owned by Thomas Jefferson, the former U.S. president and famed Francophile. Jefferson was an early U.S. envoy to France.
Hollande’s visit was the first such recognition for France in two decades. But it proved a bit of a diplomatic challenge as he traveled without a female companion following a very public breakup with longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler. Holland and Trierweiler were a couple when the White House extended the invitation, but the relationship ended after a gossip magazine revealed a secret tryst between Hollande and a French actress.
The last-minute change of plans – Hollande coming solo — caused heartburn for U.S. officials planning the diplomatic event. The Obamas tried to put the issue to rest by seating Hollande between them at a state dinner for 350 invited guests in a heated pavilion on the White House South Lawn on a frigid February night.
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