Biden aims to deepen transatlantic ties with trip to France for D-Day, state visit amid Ukraine crisis

By Kayla Tausche, CNN

Paris CNN  — 

US President Joe Biden touched down in Paris on Wednesday for a trip marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day and engaging in a state visit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

But the task at hand will be far loftier, as Biden seeks to deepen ties with transatlantic allies as Europe faces a re-energized Russia inside Ukraine, the looming threat of China and the risk posed by elections that could upset the current geopolitical order.

Biden “really believes we’re at an inflection point in history,” John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said. “It’s tied to the way geopolitics are changing, the way challenges are being presented to us around the world.”

In Normandy, Biden and other Western leaders will recount one particular challenge facing allied forces on June 6, 1944 – the largest military invasion by sea in history – which counted more than 10,000 casualties and became a pivotal moment in the war against Nazi Germany. This year’s anniversary is likely the last major commemoration in which D-Day veterans, now nearing 100 years old, are on hand to bear witness.

From Pointe-du-Hoc, which separates Omaha and Utah beaches where American troops landed, Biden will deliver a speech on the power of democracy on Friday, leaning on the visceral imagery from that day to talk about the men who gave their lives in pursuit of democracy.

“Making it clear what you stand for and what you stand against matters today,” Kirby said, acknowledging the importance of Europe bolstering American leadership. Biden “recognizes that, for as powerful as we are and as much good as we can do, we need help.”

The president arrived in France Wednesday morning and will head to Normandy on Thursday to partake in the ceremonies marking the D-Day anniversary. After the speech from Pointe-du-Hoc on Friday – a place famous in American military history for the heroic climb of Army Rangers up its 100-foot cliffs where they were able to neutralize German guns firing down on the beach – Biden is set to be fêted with a state visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, returning the favor Biden offered the French leader in 2022.

The solemn visit to Normandy and the subsequent state visit are now likely to be even more closely watched after the Wall Street Journal published a story that called into question the president’s mental acuity behind closed doors. The story, which published just after Air Force One took off for France, again brought Biden’s age to the forefront of the political conversation ahead of a grueling few weeks of travel that includes the trip to France, a return to Washington, the Group of 7 summit in Italy and a June 15 fundraiser in Los Angeles. The White House has slammed the Journal report.

“Congressional Republicans, foreign leaders and nonpartisan national-security experts have made clear in their own words that President Biden is a savvy and effective leader who has a deep record of legislative accomplishment,” said White House spokesman Andrew Bates. “Now, in 2024, House Republicans are making false claims as a political tactic that flatly contradict previous statements made by themselves and their colleagues.”

The Journal story was based on interviews with more than 45 people – both Democrat and Republican – and included administration officials who defended the president’s performance. Most of those critical of Biden in the report were Republicans, the Journal said, though some Democrats acknowledged Biden showing signs of his age.

The visit to France aims to bring Biden closer to one of his key allies on the world stage. Macron has been one of the key leaders in Europe’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. France has doubled its defense budget, announced it would surpass NATO’s 2% defense spending benchmark, and restarted domestic production of critical military inputs. In April, Macron visited a Eurenco factory that would make gunpowder after years of outsourcing the production.

“It is today that the question of peace and war on our continent is being answered, as is our ability or inability to ensure our own security,” Macron said in a recent speech.

Biden is set to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky while they are in Normandy and again on the sidelines of the G7 in Italy next week, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

The visit comes at a critical time in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has begun using Western weapons to strike targets inside Russia for the first time. Ukraine had for months pleaded with Washington to allow it to strike targets on Russian soil with US weapons, as Moscow launched a brutal aerial and ground assault on Kharkiv, safe in the knowledge that its troops could retreat back to Russian soil to regroup and its weapons depots could not be targeted with Western arms.

Biden quietly gave Ukraine permission to use those weapons; Macron was less subtle in his support for the measure.

“Ukrainian soil is being attacked from bases in Russia. So how do we explain to the Ukrainians that we’re going to have to protect these towns and basically everything we’re seeing around Kharkiv at the moment, if we tell them you are not allowed to hit the point from which the missiles are fired?” Marcon stated during a visit to Schloss Meseberg in Brandenburg, Germany last week.

“We think that we should allow them to neutralize the military sites from which the missiles are fired and, basically, the military sites from which Ukraine is attacked,” Macron continued.

The French leader has been among the most vocal supporters of the Ukrainian cause in Europe, refusing to rule out sending French military trainers to Ukraine to assist Kyiv in its fight.

But ultimately the United States is footing much of the bill for Ukraine’s defense.

The United States has sent $175 billion to Ukraine since Russia’s 2022 invasion – eclipsing the $171 billion in today’s dollars that the US sent to 16 European countries to rebuild after World War II.

By contrast, European Union member states together have sent Ukraine $53 billion in direct financial assistance and $35 billion in military aid.

The World Bank has estimated rebuilding Ukraine would cost more than $500 billion. And the war isn’t over yet.

Finding the funds to pay for that capacity could prove challenging. European Union countries consistently spend more than they make in tax revenue, and the governments borrow money to cover those costs. While the United States has higher overall deficits and debt levels, its economy and population are growing more quickly.

Macron has nonetheless promised Zelensky continued support, promising more military aid last month “in the coming days and weeks.”

CNN’s Jessie Gretener, Mariya Knight and Joseph Ataman contributed to this report.

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