Biden praises France as a ‘valued partner’, Macron says France’s concerns ‘cleared up’ about the lost $ 60 billion submarine contract.
US President Joe Biden, meeting with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in Rome, acknowledged that the United States had been “clumsy” in excluding France from a deal to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia earlier this year.
It was the first meeting of US-French leaders seeking to amend relations following a diplomatic dispute over the US-UK-Australian security pact reached in September.
Macron spoke first in French as Biden listened, saying the meeting was “important” and key to “looking to the future” as the two countries face new challenges. The two shook hands at the conclusion of Macron’s comments.
The meeting took place at Villa Bonaparte, the French embassy in the Vatican in the heart of Rome, and comes before the summit of the Group of 20 (G20) of leaders of the largest economies. Biden had met with Pope Francis earlier that day.
Biden and Macron greeted each other with handshakes and shoulder grabs before their meeting. Biden did not formally apologize to Macron, but admitted that the United States should not have caught its longtime ally by surprise with the Australian deal.
“I think what happened was using an English phrase, what we did was awkward,” Biden said, adding that the submarine deal “was not done very gracefully.”
“I had the impression that France had been informed much earlier,” he added.
The US-led submarine contract with Australia supersedes a previous French agreement to supply Australia with diesel-powered submarines.
The United States argued that the move, which will arm the Pacific ally with higher-quality nuclear-powered ships, will allow Australia to better contain the Chinese invasion of the region.
Macron said the two allies will develop “stronger cooperation” to prevent a similar misunderstanding from happening again.
“We clarified together what we had to clarify,” Macron added when asked by the media if relations between the United States and France had been repaired.
“What really matters now is what we will do together in the next few weeks, the next few months, the next few years,” he said.
France had accused the United States and Australia of “lying” about the submarine deal, which cost France about $ 60 billion in lost revenue when Australia canceled its purchase of French submarines.
Meanwhile, the first lady of the United States, Jill Biden, received Brigitte Macron for a “bilateral engagement” on Friday afternoon.
US NSA Jake Sullivan had anticipated the meeting, saying the two leaders “would literally cover the front of the issues facing the US-France alliance,” including counterterrorism in the Middle East, China, and trade and economic affairs.
“We feel very good about the intensive engagement we have had with France over the past few weeks,” Sullivan told reporters traveling with the president.
Macron thanked Biden for “very operational and very concrete decisions” in recent weeks to help the French army in the Sahel region of Africa.
France has around 5,100 soldiers based in Chad and Mali who are conducting coalition military operations against groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) in the Sahel.
Macron had announced in July that France planned to end the Sahel operation in 2022 and reduce its forces in the region to about 2,500 to 3,000 troops.
The French president had been seeking greater US military and intelligence cooperation for French operations in the Sahel.