US President Joe Biden indicated he would be willing to talk with Vladimir Putin if the Russian leader demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion in Ukraine.
But the American leader made such talks conditional on support by Nato allies.
“I’m prepared to speak with Mr Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding that he’s looking for a way to end the war,” Mr Biden said. “He hasn’t done that yet.”
The comments came during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday where both leaders vowed to maintain a united front against Russia.
Mr Biden honoured Macron with a grand state dinner on Thursday evening, the first of the US president’s Covid-19-shadowed presidency for a foreign leader.
In addition to their talk of Ukraine — which White House officials said was at the top of the agenda — the two leaders discussed Mr Macron’s and other leaders’ concerns about the recently enacted clean energy law.
Mr Macron has made clear that he and other European leaders are opposed to incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act that favour American-made climate technology, including electric vehicles.
Both Mr Biden and Mr Macron in their public comments sought to keep the focus on the situation in Ukraine.
The state visit should provide a boost to Mr Macron diplomatically that he can leverage back in Europe.
His outspoken comments help him demonstrate that he is defending French workers, even as he maintains a close relationship with Mr Biden.
It also helps Mr Macron burnish his image as the European Union’s most visible and vocal leader, at a time when Europe is increasingly concerned that its economy will be indelibly weakened by the Ukraine war and resulting energy and inflation crises.
To that end, Mr Biden praised Mr Macron as “not just the leader of France” and for being “very outspoken and very, very commanding in Europe”. In his public comments, Mr Macron repeatedly referred to the US president as “dear Joe”.
Still, at moments, Mr Macron’s rhetoric has rankled US and Ukrainian officials, with calls for Ukraine and Russia to meet at the negotiating table.
White House officials have publicly maintained that it is solely up to Ukraine’s leadership to decide when it is appropriate to engage the Russians and have stressed the war could end immediately if Mr Putin ceased his invasion.
Mr Macron also raised eyebrows earlier this month in a speech at a summit in Bangkok when he referred to the US and China as “two big elephants” that are on the cusp of creating “a big problem for the rest of the jungle”.
His visit to Washington came as both the US and France are keeping their eyes on China after protests have broken out in several mainland cities and Hong Kong over Beijing’s “zero-Covid” strategy.