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Biden and Macron present united front against Russia in first state visit

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Biden hosts Macron at first state dinner
Biden hosts Macron at first state dinner of his administration 01:59

Washington — President Biden said he has no "immediate plans" to contact Russian President Vladimir Putin, but would be "prepared" to speak with him if the Russian president is interested in finding a way to end the war on Ukraine.  

Mr. Biden made the remark during a joint press conference Thursday afternoon with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House, in which the two leaders presented a united front in supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression. Mr. Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden welcomed the French president and his wife, Brigitte Macron, to the White House on Thursday for the first state visit of the Biden presidency. 

"The fact of the matter is, I have no immediate plans to contact Mr. Putin," Mr. Biden said, when a reporter asked about any potential future conversations he'll have with the Russian president. "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. If that's the case, in consultation with my French and my NATO friends, I'll be happy to sit down with Putin to see what he has in mind. He hasn't done that yet. In the meantime, I think it's absolutely critical, what Emmanuel said — we must support the Ukrainian people. The idea that Putin is ever going to defeat Ukraine is beyond comprehension." 

Mr. Biden said he and the French president reiterated their commitment to standing with Ukraine in talks earlier in the day. The U.S. president said the U.S. and French nations also stand with the people of Iran. 

"If I listed all the areas where cooperation between France and the United States were delivering meaningful progress, we'd be here until dinnertime," Mr. Biden said. 

Through a translator, Macron said they committed to continuing to work together to helping the Ukrainian people resist the Russians. Macron said they're working in close cooperation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

President Biden Hosts State Visit For French President Macron At White House
President Biden speaks as French President Emmanuel Macron listens at a news conference in the East Room of the White House during a state visit on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Macron was asked by a U.S. reporter if he petitioned Mr. Biden to encourage Ukraine to negotiate an end to Russia's war. Macron said the United States' support of Ukraine is "very important," not just for Ukrainians, "but for the stability of our world today." 

"Let me just say that our two nations are made of values and history," Macron said of the U.S. and France, the oldest American ally. "And what is at stake in Ukraine is not just very far from here in a small country somewhere in Europe. But it's about our values and our principles, and it's about what we agreed together in the U,N. Charter — protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity."

On an issue closer to home, Mr. Biden was asked if freight workers deserve more paid sick leave, a major sticking point in contract talks that has sparked congressional action to avoid a strike. A contract negotiated by the White House in September was rejected by four out of 12 rail unions, threatening a possible nationwide rail worker strike. The agreement includes just a day of paid sick leave, although it does have a 24% raise for rail workers. The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on two House-passed measures, one imposing the agreed contract and one adding paid sick days to that contract.

"I negotiated a contract no one else could negotiate. The only thing that was left out was whether there was paid leave," Mr. Biden said, adding that the U.S. is a rare wealthy nation without guaranteed paid leave. Mr. Biden added that he wants nationwide paid sick leave "not just for rail workers, but for all workers." 

Earlier Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were on hand for the Macrons' arrival, and a military band played the national anthems of both nations before the two leaders addressed the crowd.

"As my friend and I were talking, France is our oldest ally. Our unwavering partner in freedom's cause," the U.S. president said, offering appreciation for France's partnership in defending democracy.

Mr. Biden and Macron both noted the importance of standing up for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

"France and the United States are facing down Vladimir Putin's grasping ambition for conquest, and Russia's brutal war against Ukraine, which has once more shattered peace on the continent of Europe," Mr. Biden said. "France and the United States are once again defending the democratic values and universal human rights which are the heart of both our nations. The wellspring of our strength is a shared commitment to liberty and justice for all — liberté, égalité, fraternité."

U.S. President Biden and Mrs. Biden host French President Macron and Mrs. Macron for an official State Arrival Ceremony at the White House in Washington
French President Emmanuel Macron and President Biden stand together for the playing of their nations' national anthems on the South Lawn of the White House on Dec. 1, 2022. JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS

At the top of the bilateral meeting, Mr. Biden said Macron has been a commanding leader not only of France, but in Europe. Macron emphasized the need for "sustainable peace," and said they want to "fix" the direct and indirect consequences of Russia's war on Ukraine. Macron also thanked Mr. Biden for the dinner he and his wife shared with the president and first lady Wednesday night at Filomena, a high-end Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Biden and the first lady will host the Macrons for a state dinner, an event previewed by the first lady Wednesday. Between 300 and 400 guests are expected to attend the event on the South Lawn, where temperatures are expected to be in the high 30s or low 40s by Thursday evening. 

As the official gift, the president and first lady presented the Macrons with a custom mirror made of fallen wood from the White House grounds. It's a reproduction of a mirror for the White House collection that hangs in the West Wing. Mr. Biden also gave the French president a custom vinyl collection of great American musicians. 

Mr. Biden and Macron have spoken numerous times over the president's time in office and met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Macron also traveled to the U.S. for a state visit hosted by former President Donald Trump in 2018. First elected to lead France in 2017, Macron defeated far-right challenger Marine Le Pen to win a second term in April.

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