Working to work things out with a former ally, President Joe Biden told French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday that the United States had been “awkward” in handling a secret US-UK submarine deal with the United States. Australia, an agreement which left France in a bind. and shaken Europe’s faith in American loyalty.
Biden and Macron greeted each other with handshakes and shoulder shakes before their first face-to-face meeting since the deal was publicly announced in September, marking the latest American effort to try to ease the injured French sensibility . Biden did not officially apologize to Macron, but admitted that the United States should not have surprised its oldest ally.
“I think what happened was – to use an English expression – what we did was awkward,” Biden said, adding that the submarine deal “hadn’t been done with many. of grace “.
“I had the impression that France had been informed long before,” he added.
The US-led submarine contract superseded an earlier French agreement to supply Australia with its own diesel-powered submarines. The United States has argued that the move, which would arm the Pacific ally with better nuclear-powered ships, would allow Australia to better contain Chinese encroachment in the region.
Macron said the two allies would develop “stronger cooperation” to prevent a similar misunderstanding from happening again.
“We clarified together what we needed to clarify,” he added, when asked if US-French relations had been mended. “What really matters now is what we will do together in the weeks to come, the months to come, the years to come,” he said.
To that end, Macron’s goal for the meeting was to secure greater U.S. intelligence and military cooperation to support French counterterrorism operations in Africa’s Sahel region.
Macron praised Biden’s “very operational and very concrete decisions” in recent weeks that have helped the French military fight Islamist extremists in the Sahel.
Biden and Macron also discussed new ways to cooperate in the Indo-Pacific, a move meant to appease French spirits after being excluded from the US-UK-Australia partnership that accompanied the submarine deal. Other topics on the agenda include China, Afghanistan and Iran, as well as climate change, ahead of next week’s United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
The French, who lost more than $ 60 billion in the submarine deal, argued the Biden administration at the highest level had misled them about talks with Australia and even criticized the fact that Biden was adopting the tactics of his bombastic predecessor, Donald Trump. . France is particularly angry to be kept in the dark about a major geopolitical change and to see its interests in the Indo-Pacific – where France has territories with 2 million inhabitants and 7,000 soldiers – ignored .
The row 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 ties, lured its ambassador to the States -United in protest.
US officials, from Biden to the bottom, have worked for weeks to try to ease tensions, but not so much to get Biden to travel to France himself to try and reestablish relations with Paris. Instead, he sent Vice President Kamala Harris on a visit in early November.
In a White House concession, the Biden-Macron meeting in Rome was organized and hosted by France at the Villa Bonaparte, the French Embassy to the Holy See, which Macron’s office described as “politically important. “. Meanwhile, first lady Jill Biden was to welcome Brigitte Macron for a “bilateral engagement” on Friday afternoon.
Biden also hailed France as a “greatly valued partner” and a “power in itself”.
“There are too many things we’ve done together, suffered together, celebrated together and valued together for anything… to break this,” Biden said.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the two leaders would “literally cover the waterfront with issues facing the US-French alliance,” including the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, by China and trade and economic issues.
“We are very satisfied with the intensive engagement we have had with France over the past few weeks,” he added.
Following their meeting, Biden and Macron were due to issue a joint statement outlining areas of mutual cooperation, including Indo-Pacific and economic and technological cooperation.
As the United States focuses on Asia, Macron seeks to strengthen Europe’s independent defense capabilities, with more military equipment and military operations abroad.
France is also determined to put “muscle” in 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 the Western allies “to share roles” instead of competing, and that the Americans are “allies as loyal and as available to their European partners as always”, according to the senior French official.