Background Press Call Previewing the Upcoming France State Visit

Published: Tue Nov 29 2022

Via Teleconference

6:20 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining us on the background call this evening. And my apologies that this moved around a little bit. We had a little trouble wrangling some schedules. But we're all here now, and it's before 8:00 p.m., so I think that that's pleasing to everybody.

What we're going to do tonight is set the stage for the France state visit. As a reminder, this call is on background. It's attributable to "senior administration officials," and it's embargoed until the end of the call.

For your awareness but not for reporting purposes, we will [redacted].

Today we're joined by [senior administration official] and [senior administration official]. They're both going to make a few brief remarks at the top, and then we'll take your questions.

So, with that, I'll turn it over to [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [moderator]. And good evening to everybody. We are very excited to welcome President and Mrs. Macron and the delegation from France to the United States this week.

As you all know, it's the first state visit of the Biden-Harris administration, and we view this as an opportunity to highlight a foundational component of the administration's approach to foreign policy, strengthening our alliances.

And so in that case, it is fitting that France is the first country to receive a state visit. France, of course, is our oldest ally. It is one of our most capable partners and is a critical partner for the United States on the full range of global challenges.

It really has been an incredible year of partnership, particularly in response to the crisis in Ukraine, including through our collaboration together within the G7, on the U.N. Security Council, as Allies in NATO, and working in close partnership with the European Union.

Events over the course of the state visit will emphasize both our long-shared history as allies as well as our deep partnership in confronting many of the most urgent global challenges currently facing both of our countries.

In addition to these foreign policy elements, I do also want to give a shout-out to the strong people-to-people ties that we have between our countries. Our economic ties span established and cutting-edge sectors with major investments in both directions supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs in each country. And our cultural ties remain a source of strength and importance to our bilateral relationship, with France remaining a top destination for American students, creators, and tourists, as well as vice versa. And I think many of the richness of our economic and cultural ties will be on display at the state dinner later this week.

So, first and foremost, this visit is an opportunity for the two presidents to coordinate on the most urgent global issues. I would expect discussions about Ukraine will be front and center to their conversations, as it has been through so many of the meetings and phone calls that they have had over the last year.

Expect that they will also be discussing the challenges posed by China, as well as other challenges in Iran, in the Middle East, and the Sahel.

And also expect that they will be discussing our shared economic cooperation, our energy cooperation. And my colleague will have more to say on the economic and the energy components of the relationship and the visit.

We will be releasing a joint statement coming out of the visit, which is going to lay out, I think, in clear detail the breadth and the depth of our bilateral relationship, both in terms of setting out information on the many areas in which our countries are cooperating, on everything from clean energy and cyber to defense, economic, and commercial ties, as well as space and science and technology, as well as our shared views to many of the pressing foreign policy issues that our countries are facing today.

So let me leave it there and turn it over to [senior administration official], and then I'm happy to answer specific questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [senior administration official], and thanks, everyone, for joining. Maybe a few observations about the U.S.-France economic partnership.

One, you know, just that the most important point is that it's a strong economic partnership, that it's going to be a core focus of conversation during the visit, recognizing the expansive set of economic ties that bind our two countries across both established and cutting-edge sectors, major investments traveling in both directions, and supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs in each country.

We've worked closely together under this administration to tackle the biggest challenges we face, whether that's the impact of Putin's war on energy and food prices, whether that's clean energy and creating good jobs, whether that's coordinating on the non-market practices of the People's Republic of China.

To maybe just give a few examples under each of those headers: You know, first, on the rise in gas prices in Europe caused by Putin's invasion of Ukraine and Putin's energy war against Europe, the U.S. has risen to the occasion in terms of our partnership with Europe and France, and increased dramatically, enabled Europe to diversify away from Russia.

The U.S. has more than doubled its liquid natural gas exports to the EU27 this year compared to 2021. That increase in global LNG supplies led by the United States helped Europe and its economies get to storage levels that have put the continent in an encouraging place ahead of the thick of winter. And we will continue to work with France and Europe to ensure sufficient supplies will be available not just for this winter, but beyond.

To maybe make one more point on the energy issue, you know, we've seen articles out there stating that the U.S. is profiting off of its LNG sales to Europe. This is a false claim. In fact, the U.S. has mobilized LNG to help Europe prepare for winter, and that is what is happening. As you heard me say, our exports this year to the EU27 have more than doubled versus what they were in 2021.

And let's be clear: The vast majority of U.S. LNG is exported to Europe via transparent, long-term contracts with foreign energy trading firms, including several European companies. And those exports are then onsold to end European consumers by energy trading firms.

So just wanted to be sure that we set the record straight on some of what we're seeing out there and the fact that this isn't - this is nothing but a false claim.

Second, moving on from energy to the Inflation Reduction Act, I would just make the point that Europe is one of our strongest economic partners, and we share a commitment to addressing the climate crisis.

The IRA, of course, as the most ambitious piece of climate legislation in U.S. history, has a number of provisions that will contribute to the growth of the clean energy sector globally. Obviously, combating the climate crisis is a shared goal of the United States and France. And the IRA is a substantial - is a substantial accomplishment from the United States, doing its part to help deliver on those climate goals.

But beyond that, the IRA presents significant opportunities for European firms, as well as benefits to EU energy security by accelerating the energy transition and realigning clean energy supply chains to trusted partners.

This is not a zero-sum game. The IRA is going to grow the pie for clean energy investments the world over, not split it up.

We are committed to continuing to work with the EU to help them better understand the IRA; to do what we can to address their concerns through the U.S.-EU Task Force on the Inflation Reduction Act, which I am [redacted] but more broadly has a lot of involvement from the White House broadly, as well as from the European Commission. The task force has already met several times this month, and we expect these productive conversations to continue.

Third, [senior administration official] referenced the strong sense of alignments between us and France on China and the challenges presented by China's non-market practices. I would just observe, you know, in my own role around the G7 Summit, we really observed the way in which the G7 as a whole, including France, really has come to align around a shared diagnosis of what China's non-market practices mean and can do, and the fact that we as a G7 need to align around a set of steps to address those challenges presented by the PRC in common across the G7. Again, so it's really calling out the work that France did as part of the G7 to align on those objectives.

Lastly, we are working on a range of other economic issues like resilient supply chains. We've done a lot of work with France alongside the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment that was on display at the G7 this summer, as well as the G20 a couple of weeks ago. And that is, of course, an effort to help close the infrastructure and investment gap in emerging economies around the world.

So, the bottom line being we look forward to a substantive conversation on each of these individual economic and energy elements, and underscore the extent and strength of the partnership between the U.S. and France.

And with that, I'll hand it back to the moderator.

MODERATOR: I think we're ready to open it up to questions.

Q Hey, thank you. Just a couple of questions. Would the attacks by Russia on Ukraine power facilities - do you expect the presidents to find some solution to the growing energy crisis in Ukraine or discuss options? And secondly, are you in agreement on when Ukraine should engage in diplomatic talks with Russia? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for both of those questions. As I said at the top, I expect that Ukraine is going to be one of the top agenda items for the two presidents to discuss, as it has been throughout their conversations over the last year.

In terms of the energy piece, obviously there is tremendous concern over the last couple of weeks about Russia's increased attacks on civilian infrastructure and, in particular, energy infrastructure in Ukraine. So, very much expect that this is going to be something that the two leaders are going to be discussing.

The United States has been working very hard across the government to respond to the needs that Ukraine is facing on its energy infrastructure, with USAID Administrator Samantha Power tweeting out today the large number of generators, for example, that the United States is providing. There's a diplomatic effort being led out of the State Department to rally global support for countries to respond to the energy crisis as well.

I expect that this is a topic that will come up on the margins of the NATO foreign ministerial meeting later this week. And then France, of course, is hosting a conference in Paris in early December to help encourage countries to deal with the resilience of - to develop the resilience of Ukraine going forward.

So, very much expect that this is something that the leaders are going to discuss, as well as the numerous diplomatic and global coordination efforts that are underway in terms of responding to what really is a critical need of the Ukrainians right now.

In terms of the broader context, the United States has been very clear that we are not putting any pressure on the Ukrainians to engage in negotiations. We all very much welcome the statements that President Zelenskyy has been making about his openness to a just peace. This is something that President Macron and the other G7 leaders welcomed, as noted in the G7 statement from several weeks ago.

And I expect our presidents to continue discussing ways that they can support Ukraine not only in terms of its energy security needs, but also with security assistance needs, humanitarian assistance, budgetary support, and the full range of areas in which the United States, France, and the rest of our allies and partners are continuing to support Ukraine.

Q Thanks so much for doing this and sorry about the glitch. My question would be about the Inflation Reduction Act, because the French have been quite clear that they think this piece of legislation is protectionist. And President Macron is said to be seeking exemptions for European industries and especially everything that has to do with electric vehicles, obviously. Do you think that there will be any kind of deliverables after this visit, any kind of major announcements that maybe the United States are ready to grant exemptions?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for that. I think we certainly expect that the Inflation Reduction Act will be a topic of conversation between the two leaders. You know, I would just sort of make really the same set of observations that I made during my opening remarks: that, you know, we think that the Inflation Reduction Act is a historic achievement in terms of taking steps forward for the U.S. to meet ambitious climate goals. And meeting the climate challenge head on is an important shared objective of the United States and France and has been for the entire duration of the Biden-Harris presidency.

Secondly, that, you know, we think that the IRA ultimately doesn't just achieve climate ends. It also achieves important ends across the U.S. and Europe in terms of growing opportunity for energy security, for the clean energy transition, for realigning supply chains to trusted partners, and that in so doing, it's going to create opportunities for European firms, for French firms along the way.

Our core belief is that this isn't a zero-sum game - that the IRA grows the pie for clean energy investments writ large; it doesn't split it up. And that this is an important step forward for both economies in terms of making this transition as a matter of climate as well as a matter of economics.

The last thing I would say is, you know, we have put in place a process to have exactly these conversations in the form of a U.S.-EU Task Force on the Inflation Reduction Act. You know, I've been very heavily involved in it [redacted]. We've met several times since its inception a little more than a month ago. We expect that dialogue to continue - to continue constructively, as it has. And that's been a really productive forum both for speaking about some of the challenges that our European partners and allies face with respect to the IRA but also, importantly, to talk about the things that I mentioned at the head of my answer around its ability to generate economic opportunity, as well as opportunity around the clean energy transition for economies on both sides of the Atlantic.

Q Hi, I wanted to ask about COVID. Since this first state dinner is happening later than usual because of COVID, can
you talk about what the COVID protocols are for the dinner specifically and the visit generally?

MODERATOR: Hi, it's [senior administration official]. Maureen, let me follow up with you on this one.

Q Thank you.

Q Thanks so much for doing this. I want to ask how much of picking France first had to do with continuing to mend ties over AUKUS. I mean, does the administration now feel that, you know, any friction or lingering feelings over that has been recovered? Is this a sign of that?

And also, you know, France has talked about a third - regarding China, France has talked about a third way for countries of the Indo-Pacific to meet defense needs and other needs. Does - you know, in order not to get in between China and the United States, does the United - will that come up? How will it come up? Will the United States seek clarification on France's, you know, third way? And does the U.S. see any conflict there? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much for both of those questions. As to the question of why France, I'll just return to what I said at the beginning, which really speaks to the breadth and depth and the importance of the U.S. relationship with France.

France truly is one of our most capable allies. It is a nuclear power. It's a member of the P3, of the U.N. Security Council. It's a critical partner in the G7. It's an important ally within NATO and an important partner within the European Union as well. And President Biden came into office very much focused on the importance of alliances. And certainly one of our strongest and most important allies is France.

There's also been a very long track record of engagement with France. I think virtually every French president at some stage has had a state visit here at the White House. And certainly, if you look at the last three administrations - the first state visit in the second term of Obama, Trump's first state visit, and now President Biden state visit has been with France as well.

As I think [senior administration official] and I have been setting out here, it's hard to think of any sort of global issue on which we are not closely partnering with France. Certainly in response to the crisis in Ukraine. France is a very important partner in the Indo-Pacific. We've had close cooperation in the Sahel. And I think all of these are going to be very much reflected in this visit and also in the meeting between our two presidents.

On the question on China, you know, I will let President Macron and the French government speak to the views expressed by President Macron. But, you know, from our perspective, we have seen incredible convergence between the United States and our European allies over the last year in terms of our response to the threat in China. We've got very rich and robust dialogues, including through the U.S. and the EU. We've got consultations on the Indo-Pacific. And as I mentioned before, France remains one of our most important partners in the Indo-Pacific as well.

Certainly, I think China will be on the very top of the agenda between the two leaders. The President, of course, met with Xi when he was in Bali. President Macron has spoken about his likely intention to visit Beijing early in the next year. And so, I'm sure that the two presidents are going to want to compare notes on that.

Certainly, to your questions, Europe has its own interests. Our views on China are not identical, but I think there is a strong view that we should be speaking from a common script in response to China, and, I think, on all of the big issues we are. And we very much welcome France's partnership to ensure a free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific and expect that will be very much top of mind for the two presidents.

Q Hi. Thank you for doing this and for taking my question. First, I wanted to follow up on the answer about the IRA. You know, you've made the case that actually this is ultimately a good thing for European industry. That's obviously not what French officials have said. They've said that this is a threat to European companies. So, is the U.S. position just that they misunderstand the implications of this legislation?

And on the invitation itself, I just wondered if you could give us some more background in terms of, you know, was this a visit that was in the works and you decided to elevate it to a state visit, or was there a decision, okay, it's time for a state visit, you know, and France is the country we're going to choose to invite for a state visit? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, on the first, you know, I would say I think that the task force that's been set up has been really productive for hearing from European officials about the challenges that they see around the Inflation Reduction Act. And it's also, as I've said, been an opportunity for us to talk through how we see some of the opportunities embedded in the IRA for European firms, for the European economy, but also, of course, for the clean energy transition and meeting our climate goals more broadly.

I would, you know, just kind of point to three that we've kind of continually pointed to. You know, one, a place like the commercial EV tax credits - important opportunities there for European manufacturers to be an important part of the U.S. EV market through that provision.

Secondly, the provisions around renewable energy production. Again, there, I think we see important opportunities for European firms, in particular around both onshore and offshore wind.

And lastly, the provisions around hydrogen and seeing that as an opportunity to really scale up over time U.S. hydrogen production, which can be - you know, I think, particularly facing the circumstances that we've been facing since the start of Russia's invasion around the weaponization of energy, around the challenges to economies around the world, particularly in Europe in the face of high-energy prices, and limited energy supplies - you know, the steps the act is taking to generate low-cost, stable, secure, abundant renewable energy out over the medium to long term is ultimately to the benefit of the global economy as a whole, but also, specifically, a benefit to Europe's economy.

Those are the types of things that we're talking through, through the task force. And like I say - like I said, I think it's been a very constructive set of conversations that we expect to continue at a very regular clip.

Q Hi, thank you so much. I have two questions. The first one is in respect to the energy security, the situation in the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Do the leaders planning to discuss this topic?

And circling back on China, respectively you said that we have two different positions, but could you please be more specific on China's role in the war in Ukraine that was waged by Russia? And do you see any signs that China is helping Russia? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. Thanks for those questions. I think I will leave some of the weedier analysis of China and the role in Russia and the rest to separate conversations and keep the call here today focused on the state visit.

On your first question on energy security, we'll repeat what I said in response to a previous question, which is that, yes, I very much expect the two leaders to talk about the importance of supporting Ukraine as it comes under Russian assault against its power grids and civilian infrastructure. This is very much front of mind for President Biden.

President Macron, as I said, is going to be hosting a conference in Paris in early December focused on ensuring the resilience of Ukraine going forward on these energy issues as well.

And on China, more broadly, I think that both leaders recognize that we should have a China angle to our Ukraine diplomatic strategy. That's something that President Biden strongly agrees with, and it's something that I assume the two leaders will discuss during their meeting as well.

Q Hi, thanks very much for taking my question. I think this question is for [senior administration official], since you've been involved in this bilateral task force on the Inflation Reduction Act.

We're just hearing a lot of rhetoric out of Europe about a potential trade war or a subsidy raised as a result of the IRA legislation. And I just wonder, in the conversations that you're having with your European counterparts, are they using that kind of language? Are they saying that if we don't - that if, you know, the U.S. doesn't provide some accommodation for Europe here, that they're going to rush ahead with subsidies of their own, or possibly impose tariffs on U.S. exports?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I would just say a couple things. One, I think it's been a very constructive set of conversations that, you know, is ongoing between us and our partners in the EU, like I said, both with respect to their articulation of the challenges that they feel they face as a result of the IRA, as well as our articulation of some of the opportunities that we think the IRA provides.

You know, the one last piece, you know, I would add is that I think we've seen some of the conversation in recent days, some of the reporting in recent days around a coalescence from some key European countries, including France, on a potential pathway ahead on subsidies. And I think there, you know, I think our perspective is: If you look at the economics of this, if you look at the amount of need around clean energy investments around renewables investments, around EVs, you know, there's just a huge amount of work to be done and more, frankly, to be done than the market would provide for on its own. And so, there is an important role for subsidies to help accelerate and generate the positive spillovers from the climate that result from these investments.

You know, we think the Inflation Reduction Act is reflective of that type of step, but we also think there is space here for Europe and others, frankly, to take similar steps. And we view the task force as a way of allowing those conversations to play out for us to have conversations about - not unlike in the setting of semiconductors and chips, for us to make sure that their approach and our approach ends up complementing one another, being harmonized with one another.

Those are the kinds of conversations that we think are very constructively being had and able to be had within the confines of the task force, precisely because the needs here for the climate are so great, and the opportunities both on this side of the Atlantic as well as on the European side are so important.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you all for taking the time. This concludes the call. Take care.

6:51 P.M. EST

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