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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden and Macron talk togetherness, with no mention of discord over Gaza Strip

President Joe Biden and President Emmanuel Macron of France arrive for a joint statement at the Elysée Palace in Paris on Saturday, June 8, 2024. Papering over stark differences about Israel’s invasion of Gaza, the two leaders here asserted the enduring strength of the American-French partnership on climate, the economy, European security and cultural ties. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker

U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday stressed how much they agree with each other about world affairs, including the war in Ukraine, even as their countries have expressed sharply different views of the fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas.

Appearing briefly together in front of reporters after two days of D-Day remembrances and hours before a lavish state dinner at the Élysée Palace in Paris, the two presidents declined to take any questions and papered over their stark differences about the Middle East. Instead, they both asserted the enduring strength of the U.S.-France partnership on climate, the economy, European security and cultural ties.

“Today, I proudly stand with France to support freedom and democracy around the world,” Biden said, as the two men emerged from a closed-door meeting at the Élysée Palace.

“We see eye to eye on this war raging in Ukraine,” Macron said, adding that he hoped “all members of the G7 will agree to a $50 billion solidarity fund for Ukraine,” referring to the Group of 7 industrialized nations.

Macron’s comments suggested that the two leaders had reached common ground over a plan to leverage proceeds from frozen Russian assets to provide an upfront loan of up to $50 billion to Ukraine. U.S. officials had said heading into the meeting that France was the main holdout for such a plan and that they were hoping to win support during the Paris visit.

On Gaza, Macron noted his government’s support for an Israeli cease-fire proposal that Biden has strongly backed. But the French president also directly challenged Israel to do more to deliver aid to Palestinians suffering from the government’s bombardment.

“It is not acceptable that Israel should not open all checkpoints to humanitarian aid, as requested by the united international community for months,” Macron said. He said Israeli operations in Gaza “should stop.”

France has supported the International Criminal Court’s decision to seek warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza. By contrast, Biden has condemned that effort, calling it an unconscionable comparison of the two leaders. France also voted in the United Nations in May to include the Palestinian territories as a full member of the organization, something the United States opposes.

Neither Biden nor Macron mentioned any of the disagreements about the Israel-Hamas war.

In a departure from the usual practice when U.S. presidents meet with foreign leaders, reporters from France and the United States were not allowed to ask questions after the Saturday statements, which lasted a combined 16 minutes. In most cases, the two leaders allow reporters from each country to ask at least two questions.

John Kirby, a national security spokesperson for the White House, declined to explain why that was not the case Saturday.

“This was the arrangement that was made,” he told reporters earlier this past week. “As you know, with any bilateral meeting or, in this case, a state visit, all of that is hashed out between the two sides. And it was decided in our discussions and our planning for this visit that that’s what they would do: that they would come out and make statements to the press.”

Macron’s warm embrace of Biden despite the tensions in the relationship stood in sharp contrast to the mood when President Donald Trump visited in November 2018. Just minutes before Air Force One landed in Paris then, Trump posted a message online accusing Macron of being “very insulting.” Macron then gave a speech assailing nationalism just weeks after Trump declared himself an American nationalist.

On Saturday, by contrast, Macron praised Biden as “a partner who respects Europeans,” a line that sounded like a distinction from Trump, who often denigrated European leaders. “Thank you for being at Europe’s side,” Macron said.

“You’ve become a good friend,” Biden said in response.

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