Biden, Macron vow to hold Russia accountable for Ukraine 'war crimes'

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday used the first state visit of his presidency to demonstrate unity with France's Emmanuel Macron on Ukraine, show willingness to speak to Russia's Vladimir Putin and assuage European anger over U.S. subsidies.

U.S. leader says he's prepared to speak with Russia's president if Vladimir Putin wants to end war

U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron talk as they walk along the Colonnade of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. (Jim Watson/The Associated Press)

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday used the first state visit of his presidency to demonstrate unity with France's Emmanuel Macron on Ukraine, show willingness to speak to Russia's Vladimir Putin and assuage European anger over U.S. subsidies.

The president and First Lady Jill Biden were holding a sumptuous, star-studded White House state dinner, featuring music from Jon Batiste, and Chardonnay from the Napa Valley, in honour of President Macron and his wife, Brigitte.

But Ukraine, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, remained the most pressing issue for the leaders, who vowed to continue robust support and to back Kyiv during the tough winter months.

Biden has so far resisted talking to Putin since the Russian leader launched the invasion in February, while Macron has kept lines of communication with Putin open. Russia calls the war a "special operation."

"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."

Biden said he would talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin, if he was willing to end the invasion. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

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.

The two leaders also sought ways to ease some economic tensions in Oval Office talks.

Biden pledged to Macron to make changes to U.S. legislation that passed the U.S. Congress this year that European nations fear will harm their economies. Bills aimed at boosting U.S. renewable energy and the semiconductor industry have "glitches" that can be addressed, Biden said.

French, European concerns

Macron raised French and European concerns about subsidies in Biden's Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a $430-billion US bill that offers massive subsidies for U.S.-made products and is aimed at addressing the climate crisis and promoting renewable energy.

At a meeting on Wednesday with U.S. lawmakers, Macron said the act was "super aggressive" toward European companies, one participant told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"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 on Thursday.

Macron, seen inside the Oval Office on Thursday, is visiting Washington for the second time since becoming France's president in 2017. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

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 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, who said he and Macron had a long discussion about the topic.

Macron said it was important for the United States and its European allies to "re-synchronize" their approaches.

The leaders made "major progress" on how to alleviate the impact, and Biden could use executive orders to give European allies the same level of exemptions on local content as countries with free-trade deals, a French finance ministry source said.

On Ukraine, the two leaders said in a joint statement 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." Russia denies committing war crimes.

They also vowed to co-ordinate 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."

From left: First Lady Jill Biden, U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron pose for photos upon arrival at the North Portico of the White House ahead of the state dinner on Thursday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Macron and his wife, Brigitte, arrived in Washington on Tuesday for the French leader's second state visit to the United States since taking 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 on Thursday evening, with 200 Maine lobsters flown in for the occasion.

Guests due for the formal event in a pavilion on the White House South Lawn included French fashion designer Christian Louboutin, whose shoes featured on TV show Sex and the City, U.S. actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, from the political satire comedy Veep and Seinfeld, and singer and The Voice coach John Legend.

The two leaders and their wives, who dined together informally 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.

On Friday, Macron is expected to visit New Orleans, which was once controlled by the French and still maintains French cultural links, where he will meet the Louisiana governor and a memorandum of understanding on climate change will be signed.