In a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, President Joe Biden said the United States was “clumsy” in orchestrating a secret submarine deal between the United States and Britain with Australia, an agreement that left France in the dark. lurking and shook Europe’s faith in American loyalty.
Biden and Macron greeted each other with handshakes and shoulder grabs before their first face-to-face meeting since the deal was publicly announced in September, marking the latest American effort to try to soften wounded French sensibilities. Biden did not formally apologize to Macron, but admitted that the United States should not have taken his oldest ally by surprise.
“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 replaced an earlier French agreement to supply Australia with its own 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 expected Biden to make a new “commitment” to support French counterterrorism operations in the Sahel region of Africa, according to a senior French official. France has been seeking greater US military and intelligence cooperation in the Sahel.
Macron said the two allies will develop “stronger cooperation” to prevent a similar misunderstanding from happening again.
“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.
Biden and Macron were ready to discuss new ways to cooperate in the Indo-Pacific, a move meant to calm the spirits of the French for being cut from the US-UK-Australian partnership that accompanied the submarine deal. Other issues on the agenda include China, Afghanistan and Iran, particularly in light of the latter nation agreeing to return to the nuclear negotiating table next month.
But the French, who lost more than $ 60 billion on the deal, have argued that the Biden administration at the highest levels misled them about the talks with Australia and even criticized that Biden was adopting the tactics of his bombastic predecessor, Donald. Trump. . France is especially angry that it has been kept in the dark about a major geopolitical shift and that its interests in the Indo-Pacific, where France has territories with 2 million people and 7,000 soldiers, are being ignored.
The dispute challenged Biden’s carefully honed image of working to stabilize and strengthen the transatlantic alliance after Trump’s presidency, as France, for the first time in some 250 years of diplomatic relations, withdrew its ambassador to the United States in protest.
American officials, from Biden onward, have worked for weeks to try to defuse tensions, though not so long for Biden to visit France to try to reestablish relations with Paris. Instead, he sent Vice President Kamala Harris for a visit in early November.
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In a concession from the White House, the Biden-Macron meeting in Rome is being organized and hosted by France, which Macron’s office called “politically important.” Meanwhile, First Lady Jill Biden was to host Brigitte Macron for a “bilateral engagement” on Friday afternoon.
White House officials said Biden has not formally apologized to the French leader, instead, according to press secretary Jen Psaki, “acknowledging that there may have been further consultation” prior to the announcement of the deal.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the two leaders would “literally cover the front of the issues facing the US-French 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,” he added. He said he expected Biden and Macron to issue a joint statement outlining areas of mutual cooperation, including Indo-Peaceful and Economic and Technological Cooperation.
While the US focuses on Asia, Macron seeks to strengthen Europe’s own defense capabilities, for example through more military equipment and military operations abroad.
France is also determined to put “force” on Europe’s geopolitical strategy towards an increasingly assertive China, French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault told The Associated Press earlier this month.
France wants Western allies to “divide roles” rather than compete with each other, and for the Americans to be “as loyal allies and as available to their European partners as ever,” according to the senior French official.