The European Union proposed Wednesday to set up a U.N.-backed specialized court to investigate possible war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, and to use frozen Russian assets to rebuild the war-torn country. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the EU will work with international partners to get “the broadest international support possible" for the tribunal, while continuing to support the work of the International Criminal Court. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, his military forces have been accused of abuses ranging from killings in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha to deadly attacks on civilian facilities, including the March 16 bombing of a theater in Mariupol that an Associated Press investigation established likely killed close to 600 people. Read more: Lull in Russian attacks against Ukraine energy, aid pledged Investigations of military crimes committed during the war in Ukraine are underway around Europe, and the Hague-based International Criminal Court has already launched investigations. Von der Leyen said it is estimated that more than 20,000 Ukrainian civilians and more than 100,000 Ukrainian military officers have been killed since the start of the war. Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska on Tuesday also urged that Ukraine’s invaders be held account as she addressed lawmakers in London. “Victory is not the only thing we need. We need justice,” she said, comparing Russian war crimes to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany in World War II. She called on Britain to lead efforts to set up a criminal tribunal to prosecute senior Russians over the invasion, similar to the postwar Nuremberg trials of leading Nazis. Read more: Pockets of shelling across Ukraine as wintry warfare looms Von der Leyen on Wednesday added that the 27-nation bloc wants to make Russia pay for the destruction it caused in neighboring Ukraine by using Russian assets frozen under sanctions. She estimated the damage to Ukraine at 600 billion euros. “Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country," von der Leyen said. “We have the means to make Russia pay." Von der Leyen said 300 billion euros of the Russian central bank reserves has been immobilized, and that 19 billion euros of Russian oligarchs' money has been frozen. “In the short term, we could create with our partners a structure to manage these funds and invest them," she said. “We would then use the proceeds for Ukraine, and once the sanctions are lifted, these funds should be used so that Russia pays full compensation for the damages caused to Ukraine." The EU said the lifting of the restrictions on Russian assets could be linked to conclusion of a peace deal between Ukraine and Russia that would settle the question of damages reparation.
Former President Jiang Zemin, who led China out of isolation after the army crushed the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989 and supported economic reforms that led to a decade of explosive growth, died Wednesday. He was 96. Jiang died of leukemia and multiple organ failure in Shanghai, where he was a former mayor and Communist Party secretary, state TV and the official Xinhua News Agency reported. A surprise choice to lead a divided Communist Party after the 1989 turmoil, Jiang saw China through history-making changes including a revival of market-oriented reforms, the return of Hong Kong from British rule in 1997 and Beijing’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001. Read more: China’s Communist Party vows 'crackdown on hostile forces' as public tests Xi Even as China opened to the outside, Jiang’s government stamped out dissent. It jailed human rights, labor and pro-democracy activists and banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which the ruling party saw as a threat to its monopoly on power. Jiang gave up his last official title in 2004 but remained a force behind the scenes in the wrangling that led to the rise of current President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012. Xi has tightened political control, crushed China’s little remaining dissent and reasserted the dominance of state industry. Rumors that Jiang might be in declining health spread after he missed a ruling party congress in October at which Xi, China's most powerful figure since at least the 1980s, broke with tradition and awarded himself a third five-year term as leader. Jiang was on the verge of retirement as Shanghai party leader in 1989 when he was drafted by then-paramount leader leader Deng Xiaoping to pull together the party and nation. He succeeded Zhao Ziyang, who was dismissed by Deng due to his sympathy for the student-led Tiananmen Square protesters and was held under house arrest until his 2005 death. In 13 years as party general secretary, China's most powerful post, Jiang guided the country's rise to economic power by welcoming capitalists into the ruling party and pulling in foreign investment after China joined the WTO. China passed Germany and then Japan to become the second-largest economy after the United States. Jiang captured a political prize when Beijing was picked as the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics after failing in an earlier bid. A former soap factory manager, Jiang capped his career with the communist era’s first orderly succession, handing over his post as party leader in 2002 to Hu Jintao, who also took the ceremonial title of president the following year. Jiang tried to hold onto influence by staying on as chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the party’s military wing, the 2 million-member People’s Liberation Army. He gave up that post in 2004 following complaints he might divide the government. Even after he left office, Jiang had influence over promotions through his network of proteges. He was said to be frustrated that Deng had picked Hu as the next leader, blocking Jiang from installing his own successor. But Jiang was considered successful in elevating allies to the party’s seven-member Standing Committee, China’s inner circle of power, when Xi became leader in 2012. Portly and owlish in oversize glasses, Jiang was an ebullient figure who played the piano and enjoyed singing, in contrast to his more reserved successors, Hu and Xi. Read more: China's Xi faces public anger over draconian 'zero COVID' He spoke enthusiastic if halting English and would recite the Gettysburg Address for foreign visitors. On a visit to Britain, he tried to coax Queen Elizabeth II into singing karaoke. Jiang had faded from public sight and last appeared publicly alongside current and former leaders atop Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate at a 2019 military parade celebrating the party’s 70th anniversary in power. Jiang was born Aug. 17, 1926, in the affluent eastern city of Yangzhou. Official biographies downplay his family’s middle-class background, emphasizing instead his uncle and adoptive father, Jiang Shangqing, an early revolutionary who was killed in battle in 1939. After graduating from the electrical machinery department of Jiaotong University in Shanghai in 1947, Jiang advanced through the ranks of state-controlled industries, working in a food factory, then soap-making and China’s biggest automobile plant. Like many technocratic officials, Jiang spent part of the ultra-radical 1966-76 Cultural Revolution as a farm laborer. His career rise resumed, and in 1983 he was named minister of the electronics industry, then a key but backward sector the government hoped to revive by inviting foreign investment. As mayor of Shanghai in 1985-89, Jiang impressed foreign visitors as a representative of a new breed of outward-looking Chinese leaders. A tough political fighter, Jiang defied predictions that his stint as leader would be short. He consolidated power by promoting members of his “Shanghai faction” and giving the military double-digit annual percentage increases in spending. Foreign leaders and CEOs who shunned Beijing after the crackdown were persuaded to return. When Deng emerged from retirement in 1992 to push for reviving market-style reform in the face of conservative opposition after the Tiananmen crackdown, Jiang followed. He supported Premier Zhu Rongji, the party’s No. 3 leader, who forced through painful changes that slashed as many as 40 million jobs from state industry in the late 1990s. Zhu launched the privatization of urban housing, igniting a building boom that transformed Chinese cities into forests of high-rises and propelled economic growth. After 12 years of negotiations and a flight by Zhu to Washington to lobby the Clinton administration for support, China joined the WTO in 2001, cementing its position as a magnet for foreign investment. Despite a genial public image, Jiang dealt severely with challenges to ruling party power. His highest-profile target was Falun Gong, a meditation group founded in the early ’90s. Chinese leaders were spooked by its ability to attract tens of thousands of followers, including military officers. Activists who tried to form an opposition China Democracy Party, a move permitted by Chinese law, were sentenced to up to 12 years in prison on subversion charges. “Stability above all else,” Jiang ordered, in a phrase his successors have used to justify intensive social controls. It fell to Jiang, standing beside Britain’s Prince Charles, to preside over the return of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, symbolizing the end of 150 years of European colonialism. The nearby Portuguese territory of Macao was returned to China in 1999. Hong Kong was promised autonomy and became a springboard for mainland companies to go abroad. Meanwhile, Jiang turned to coercion with Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing says is part of its territory. During Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996, Jiang’s government tried to intimidate voters by firing missiles into nearby shipping lanes. The United States responded by sending warships to the area in a show of support. At the same time, trade between the mainland and Taiwan grew to billions of dollars a year. China’s economic boom split society into winners and losers as waves of rural residents migrated to factory jobs in cities, the economy grew sevenfold and urban incomes by nearly as much. Protests, once rare, spread as millions lost state jobs and farmers complained about rising taxes and fees. Divorce rates climbed. Corruption flourished. One of Jiang’s sons, Jiang Mianheng, courted controversy in the late 1990s as a telecommunications dealmaker and later the chairman of phone company China Netcom Co. Critics accused him of misusing his father’s status to promote his career, a common complaint against the children of party leaders. Jiang Mianheng, who has a Ph.D. from Drexel University, went on to hold prominent academic positions, including president of ShanghaiTech University in his father’s old power base. Jiang is survived by his two sons and his wife, Wang Yeping, who worked in government bureaucracies in charge of state industries.
China’s ruling Communist Party has vowed to “resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces,” following the largest street demonstrations in decades staged by citizens fed up with strict anti-virus restrictions. The statement from the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission released late Tuesday comes amid a massive show of force by security services to deter a recurrence of the protests that broke out over the weekend in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and several other cities. While it did not directly address the protests, the statement serves as a reminder of the party’s determination to enforce its rule. Hundreds of SUVs, vans and armored vehicles with flashing lights were parked along city streets Wednesday while police and paramilitary forces conducted random ID checks and searched people’s mobile phones for photos, banned apps or other potential evidence that they had taken part in the demonstrations. The number of people who have been detained at the demonstrations and in follow-up police actions is not known. Also read: China lockdown protests pause as police flood city streets The commission's statement, issued after an expanded session Monday presided over by its head Chen Wenqing, a member of the party's 24-member Politburo, said the meeting aimed to review the outcomes of October's 20th party congress. At that event, Xi granted himself a third five-year term as secretary general, potentially making him China's leader for life, while stacking key bodies with loyalists and eliminating opposing voices. “The meeting emphasized that political and legal organs must take effective measures to … resolutely safeguard national security and social stability," the statement said. “We must resolutely crack down on infiltration and sabotage activities by hostile forces in accordance with the law, resolutely crack down on illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order and effectively maintain overall social stability," it said. Yet, less than a month after seemingly ensuring his political future and unrivaled dominance, Xi, who has signaled he favors regime stability above all, is facing his biggest public challenge yet. He and the party have yet to directly address the unrest, which spread to college campuses and the semi-autonomous southern city of Hong Kong, as well as sparking sympathy protests abroad. Most protesters focused their ire on the “zero-COVID" policy that has placed millions under lockdown and quarantine, limiting their access to food and medicine while ravaging the economy and severely restricting travel. Many mocked the government's ever-changing line of reasoning, as well as claims that “hostile outside foreign forces" were stirring the wave of anger. Yet bolder voices called for greater freedom and democracy and for Xi, China's most powerful leader in decades, as well as the party he leads, to step down — speech considered subversive and punishable with lengthy prison terms. Some held up blank pieces of white paper to demonstrate their lack of free speech rights. The weekend protests were sparked by anger over the deaths of at least 10 people in a fire on Nov. 24 in China’s far west that prompted angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by anti-virus controls. Authorities eased some controls and announced a new push to vaccinate vulnerable groups after the demonstrations, but maintained they would stick to the “zero-COVID” strategy. The party had already promised last month to reduce disruptions, but a spike in infections swiftly prompted party cadres under intense pressure to tighten controls in an effort to prevent outbreaks. The National Health Commission on Wednesday reported 37,612 cases detected over the previous 24 hours, while the death toll remained unchanged at 5,233. Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students protested over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and the southern province of Guangdong sent students home in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism including the Tiananmen protests. Police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid encouraging others by drawing attention to the scale of the protests. Videos and posts on Chinese social media about protests were deleted by the party’s vast online censorship apparatus. “Zero-COVID” has helped keep case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries, but global health experts including the head of the World Health Organization increasingly say it is unsustainable. China dismissed the remarks as irresponsible. Beijing needs to make its approach “very targeted” to reduce economic disruption, the head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. “We see the importance of moving away from massive lockdowns,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in Berlin. “So that targeting allows to contain the spread of COVID without significant economic costs.” Economists and health experts, however, warn that Beijing can’t relax controls that keep most travelers out of China until tens of millions of older people are vaccinated. They say that means “zero-COVID” might not end for as much as another year. On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said restrictions were, among other things, making it impossible for U.S. diplomats to meet with American prisoners being held in China, as is mandated by international treaty. Because of a lack of commercial airline routes into the country, the Embassy has to use monthly charter flights to move its personnel in and out. “COVID is really dominating every aspect of life" in China, he said in an online discussion with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. On the protests, Burns said the embassy was observing their progress and the government's response, but said, “We believe the Chinese people have a right to protest peacefully." “They have a right to make their views known. They have a right to be heard. That’s a fundamental right around the world. It should be. And that right should not be hindered with, and it shouldn’t be interfered with," he said. Burns also referenced instances of Chinese police harassing and detaining foreign reporters covering the protests. “We support freedom of the press as well as freedom of speech," he said.
A suicide bomber blew himself up near a truck carrying police officers on their way to protect polio workers outside Quetta on Wednesday, killing two people and wounding more than 20 others, mostly policemen, officials said. Ghulam Azfer Mehser, a senior police officer, said the attack happened when the policemen were heading to the polio workers, part of a nationwide vaccination drive launched Monday. He said the bombing also damaged a nearby car carrying members of a family. The Pakistani Taliban in a statement claimed responsibility. In a statement, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan group, or TTP, said the attack in Baluchistan targeted police to avenge the killing of their former spokesperson, Abdul Wali. He was widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani and was killed in a bombing in Afghanistan’s Paktika province in August. His death was a heavy blow to the group. Read: Militants kill six police officers during ambush in northwest Pakistan The attack on police came amid a spike in new polio cases among children. The latest vaccination campaign is the sixth such drive this year and will last for five days, aiming to inoculate children under the age of 5 in high-risk areas. The drive is aimed at Islamabad and in the high-risk districts in eastern Punjab and southwestern Baluchistan province, where Monday's attack took place. It killed at least two people, including a police officer and a child. A similar campaign will be launched in the northwest in the first week of December. Pakistani authorities have been launching such campaigns regularly despite attacks on workers and police assigned to inoculation drives. Militants falsely claim that vaccination campaigns are a Western conspiracy to sterilize children. Since April, Pakistan has registered 20 new polio cases, which can cause severe paralysis in children. Read: Former ISI chief named Pakistan's new head of army Pakistan came close to eradicating polio last year, when only one case was reported. Currently, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries in which polio has not been eliminated. Wednesday's bombing happened two days after The Pakistani Taliban ended a monthslong cease-fire with the government in Islamabad, ordering its fighters to resume attacks across the country, where scores of deadly attacks have been blamed on the insurgent group. In Monday's statement, the outlawed TTP group said it would end the five-month cease-fire after the army stepped up operations against the TTP. Pakistan and the TTP had agreed to an indefinite cease-fire in May after talks in Afghanistan’s capital. The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but are allies of the Afghanistan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan more than a year ago as the U.S. and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan emboldened TTP, whose top leaders and fighters are hiding in Afghanistan. Read: China crowds angered by Covid curbs openly urge Xi to resign The latest violence comes a day after Pakistan’s new military chief, Gen. Asim Munir, took command. Munir, a former spymaster, replaced Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa after he retired from the post after a six-year term. Bajwa, during his tenure, had approved a series of operations against the militants in Baluchistan, northwest and elsewhere in the country. The latest attack also comes a day after the military claimed it killed 10 “terrorists” in a raid in the Hoshab district of Baluchistan province. For nearly two decades Baluchistan has been the scene of a low-level insurgency by separatists demanding independence from the central government in Islamabad. The government says it has quelled the insurgency, but violence in the province has persisted.
Finland’s leader says it must give more weapons and support to Ukraine to ensure it wins its war against Russia. Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the comments Wednesday in Auckland on the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to New Zealand and Australia. Among the aims of the visit are improving diplomatic relations and trade ties. “We need hard power when it comes to Ukraine,” Marin told reporters when asked what soft-power influence smaller countries like Finland and New Zealand could exert. Read: Pockets of shelling across Ukraine as wintry warfare looms “They need weapons, they need financial support, they need humanitarian support, and we need to also make sure that all the refugees fleeing from Ukraine are welcomed to Europe,” Marin said. Since the war began, both Finland and Sweden have abandoned their longstanding policies of military nonalignment and applied to join NATO. Both countries are still seeking endorsement from Turkey. Marin said the war felt very concrete for Finland due to the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border it shares with Russia. She said Finland had already given 10 shipments of weapons to Ukraine. “We have to make sure that they will win,” Marin said.
Three Chinese astronauts docked early Wednesday with their country’s space station, where they will overlap for several days with the three-member crew already onboard and expand the facility to its maximum size. Docking with the Tiangong station came at 5:42 a.m. Wednesday, about 6 1/2 hours after the Shenzhou-15 spaceship blasted off atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Tuesday night. The six-month mission, commanded by Fei Junlong and crewed by Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, will be the last in the station’s construction phase, according to the China Manned Space Agency. The station’s third and final module docked with the station earlier this month, one of the last steps in China’s effort to maintain a constant crewed presence in orbit. Read: NASA says spacecraft succeeded in changing asteroid’s orbit The crew of the Shenzhou-15 will spend several days working with the existing 3-member crew of the Tiangong station, who will then return to Earth after their six-month mission. Fei, 57, is a veteran of the 2005 four-day Shenzhou-6 mission, the second time China sent a human into space. Deng and Zhang are making their first space flights. The station has now expanded to its maximum size, with three modules and three spacecraft attached for a total mass of nearly 100 tons. Tiangong can accommodate six astronauts at a time and the handover will take about a week. That marks the station’s first in-orbit crew rotation.
Around 360 crore people currently face inadequate access to water at least a month per year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its State of Global Water Resources 2021 report published on Tuesday. The figure is projected to increase to more than 5 billion by 2050. The report assesses the effects of climate, environmental and societal change on the Earth's water resources. Its aim is to support the monitoring and management of global freshwater resources in an era of growing demand and limited supplies. It shows that due to the influence of climate change and a La Nina event (period cooling of ocean surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific), the year 2021 witnessed large areas of the globe recording drier than normal conditions. Compared with the 30-year hydrological average, the area with below-average streamflow last year was approximately two times larger than the above-average area. Read: World’s largest active volcano Mauna Loa erupts in Hawaii Between 2001 and 2018, the interagency mechanism United Nations Water reported that 74 percent of all natural disasters were water-related. The recent 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) has urged governments to further integrate water into adaptation efforts. It was the first time that water has been referenced in a COP outcome document in recognition of its critical importance. According to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, though the impacts of climate change are often felt through water -- such as more intense and frequent droughts, more extreme flooding, more erratic seasonal rainfall and accelerated melting of glaciers -- there is still insufficient understanding of changes in the distribution, quantity and quality of freshwater resources. Read: World population at 8 billion: What new challenges will it create? The WMO report aims to fill this knowledge gap, which would be helpful in providing universal access in the next five years to early warnings of hazards, such as floods and droughts, he said.
Fewer than half the people in England and Wales consider themselves Christian, according to the most recent census — the first time the country's official religion has been followed by a minority of the population. Britain has become less religious — and less white — in the decade since the last census, figures from the 2021 census released Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics revealed. Read more: Europe’s inflation likely hasn’t peaked, says central bank chief Lagarde Some 46.2% of the population of England and Wales described themselves as Christian on the day of the 2021 census, down from 59.3% a decade earlier. The Muslim population grew from 4.9% to 6.5% of the population, while 1.7% identified as Hindu, up from 1.5%. More than 1 in 3 people — 37% — said they had no religion, up from 25% in 2011. The other parts of the U.K., Scotland and Northern Ireland, report their census results separately. Secularism campaigners said the shift should trigger a rethink of the way religion is entrenched in British society. The U.K. has state-funded Church of England schools, Anglican bishops sit in Parliament’s upper chamber, and the monarch is “defender of the faith” and supreme governor of the church. Andrew Copson, chief executive of the charity Humanists U.K., said “the dramatic growth of the non-religious” had made the U.K. “almost certainly one of the least religious countries on Earth.” “One of the most striking things about these results is how at odds the population is from the state itself,” he said. “No state in Europe has such a religious set-up as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population.” Read more: Riots in Belgium, Netherlands after Morocco win at World Cup Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, one of the most senior clerics in the Church of England, said the data was “not a great surprise,” but was a challenge to Christians to work harder to promote their faith. “We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian, but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by,” he said. Almost 82% of people in England and Wales identified as white in the census, down from 86% in 2011. Some 9% said they were Asian, 4% Black and 3% from “mixed or multiple” ethnic backgrounds, while 2% identified with another ethnic group.
The head of the European Central Bank said Monday she does not believe inflation has peaked after reaching the highest levels on record. ECB President Christine Lagarde also told European lawmakers that the bank isn't through raising interest rates to combat those price spikes. There is too much uncertainty to know whether inflation, which hit 10.6% in October, would come down soon in the 19 countries that use the euro currency, Lagarde said. When looking at what is driving inflation, “whether it is food and commodities at large, or whether it is energy, we do not see the components or the direction that would lead me to believe that we have reached peak inflation and that it is going to decline in short order," she said. That means the central bank will “continue to tame inflation with all the tools that we have," primarily interest rate hikes, Lagarde told the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. Read more: European leader calls on world, China to pressure Russia Following the bank's third major rate hike in October, marking its fastest pace of increases ever, the ECB expects "to raise rates further to the levels needed to ensure that inflation returns to our 2% medium-term target in a timely manner," she said. The ECB has joined the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world in rapidly raising rates to combat inflation that spiked as the global economy recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, then got worse after Russia invaded Ukraine. Central banks risk tipping economies into recession as the world copes with an energy crisis, higher food costs and currencies weakening against the U.S. dollar. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted the international economy would expand only 2.2% next year. Most economists expect a recession in places like Europe, the U.S. and the United Kingdom next year, with ECB Vice President Luis de Guindos saying this month that risk “has become more likely" in the eurozone. Russia's war hit Europe particularly hard, “given our proximity to the conflict and our dependence on energy imports" from Russia, Lagarde said Monday. Read more: Record inflation puts the squeeze on Eurozone economies After Russia cut back most natural gas to Europe, sending energy prices soaring, governments have provided aid to help households and businesses with their bills. Lagarde warned officials not to worsen inflation by ensuring support is “targeted, tailored and temporary" to those most at need and avoids weakening the push to cut energy use.
French President Emmanuel Macron is headed to Washington for the first state visit of Joe Biden’s presidency — a revival of diplomatic pageantry that had been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden-Macron relationship had a choppy start. Macron briefly recalled France’s ambassador to the United States last year after the White House announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, undermining a contract for France to sell diesel-powered submarines. But the relationship has turned around with Macron emerging as one of Biden’s most forward-facing European allies in the Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This week’s visit — it will include Oval Office talks, a glitzy dinner, a news conference and more — comes at a critical moment for both leaders. The leaders have a long agenda for their Thursday meeting at the White House, including Iran’s nuclear program, China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and growing concerns about security and stability in Africa’s Sahel region, according to U.S. and French officials. But front and center during their Oval Office meeting will be Russia’s war in Ukraine, as both Biden and Macron work to maintain economic and military support for Kyiv as it tries to repel Russian forces. READ: Biden strengthening US policy to stem sexual violence in war zones, including in Ukraine In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House, where GOP leader Kevin McCarthy says Republicans will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by the mounting costs of supporting Ukraine in the nine-month war and as Europe battles rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday described Macron as the “dynamic leader” of America’s oldest ally while explaining Biden’s decision to honor the French president with the first state visit of his presidency. The U.S. tradition of honoring foreign heads of state dates back to Ulysses S. Grant, who hosted King David Kalakaua of the Kingdom of Hawaii for a more than 20-course White House dinner, but the tradition has been on hold since 2019 because of COVID-19 concerns. “If you look at what’s going on in Ukraine, look at what’s going on in the Indo Pacific and the tensions with China, France is really at the center of all those things,” Kirby said. “And so the president felt that this was exactly the right and the most appropriate country to start with for state visits.” Macron was also Republican Donald Trump’s pick as the first foreign leader to be honored with a state visit during his term. The 2018 state visit included a jaunt by the two leaders to Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of George Washington, America’s founding president. Macron was scheduled to arrive in Washington on Tuesday evening ahead of a packed day of meetings and appearances in and around Washington on Wednesday — including a visit to NASA headquarters with Vice President Kamala Harris and talks with Biden administration officials on nuclear energy. On Thursday, Macron will have his private meeting with Biden followed by a joint news conference and visits to the State Department and Capitol Hill before Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, are feted at the state dinner. Grammy winner Jon Batiste is to provide the entertainment. READ: Biden says “unlikely” that missile hitting Poland was fired from Russia Macron will head to New Orleans on Friday, where he is to announce plans to expand programming to support French language education in U.S. schools, according to French officials. For all of that, there are still areas of tension in the U.S.-French relationship. Biden has steered clear of embracing Macron’s calls on Ukraine to resume peace talks with Russia, something Biden has repeatedly said is a decision solely in the hands of Ukraine’s leadership. Perhaps more pressing are differences that France and other European Union leaders have raised about Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, sweeping legislation passed in August that includes historic spending on climate and energy initiatives. Macron and other leaders have been rankled by a provision in the bill that provides tax credits to consumers who buy electric vehicles manufactured in North America. The French president, in making his case against the subsidies, will underscore that it’s crucial for “Europe, like the U.S., to come out stronger ... not weaker” as the world emerges from the tumult of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a senior French government official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity to preview private talks. Macron earlier this month said the subsidies could upend the “level playing field” on trade with the EU and called aspects of the Biden legislation “unfriendly.” READ: World’s largest active volcano Mauna Loa erupts in Hawaii The White House, meanwhile, plans to counter that the legislation goes a long way in helping the U.S. meet global efforts to curb climate change. The president and aides will also impress on the French that the legislation will also create new opportunities for French companies and others in Europe, according to a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity to preview the talks. Macron’s visit comes about 14 months after the relationship hit its nadir after the U.S. announced its deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia. After the announcement of the deal, which had been negotiated in secret, France briefly recalled its ambassador to Washington. A few weeks later Macron met Biden in Rome ahead of the Group of 20 summit, where the U.S. president sought to patch things up by acknowledging his administration had been “clumsy” in how it handled the issue. Macron’s visit with Harris to NASA headquarters on Wednesday will offer the two countries a chance to spotlight their cooperation on space. France in June signed the Artemis Accords, a blueprint for space cooperation and supporting NASA’s plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 and to launch a historic human mission to Mars. The same month, the U.S. joined a French initiative to develop new tools for adapting to climate change, the Space for Climate Observatory.