Vice President Kamala Harris will kick off one of the loudest gestures in the Biden administration’s intense mission to rebuild the fence with France on Tuesday, as she arrives in Paris for several days of ceremonies and performances designed to mend a rare fracture in close relationships with America’s oldest people. ally.
The French have been outraged for months – even pulling their ambassador out of Washington for a few days in September – after the United States and Britain struck a deal to build nuclear submarines for Australia, which then canceled a $ 65 billion purchase contract. French submarines.
The French insist their grievance is not based on money, but on a sense of betrayal by longtime allies that blinded them when they forged a new defense partnership in the Indo-Pacific. Harris’ visit follows Biden’s meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron late last month at the Vatican before meeting in Rome with a group of 20 leaders of the world’s largest economies.
Biden and Macron signed a lengthy statement after Biden called the US actions “clumsy.” Macron gave Biden a qualified pardon. But Harris’s five-day trip, announced last month, is designed to take another step towards reconciliation by taking Biden’s first deputy to French soil for the traditional celebration of the end of World War I.
Some on both sides considered it too early for Biden himself to travel to France. Harris offers a middle ground because she is not only a vice president, but also someone who is considered a potential future leader.
“There are a number of things Harris can and must say, and vice presidents can do that,” said Daniel Fried, former assistant secretary of state for Europe under President George W. Bush.
This will be Harris’ third overseas trip and the first in which she will likely be able to bond with ordinary people through informal cultural events outside boardrooms and government buildings. Harris spent part of her childhood in French-speaking Quebec and speaks some French.
Her first two trips, to Latin America and Asia, were constrained by strict COVID-19 protocols, and in Latin America, a very short and busy schedule. In Paris, Harris will be joined by her husband, Doug Ehmhoff, who did not accompany her on the others.
Vice presidents usually travel a lot abroad, providing the administration with a high-level diplomatic presence when the president is busy elsewhere. Harris’ travel has been limited in part by the pandemic, and is expected to focus on travel around the country next year to campaign for Democrats in the midterm elections.
“Kamala Harris was talking about a border issue of sorts, which is not an issue,” Fried said, referring to Harris’s diplomatic role in discouraging migration from Central America. “This is a chance for her to raise her profile and let the French get to know her and the Europeans get to know her.”
Harris’ trip to Guatemala and Mexico in June damaged her reputation in the country particularly badly. During an NBC interview with Lester Holt in Guatemala, she was pressured about why she had not visited the US-Mexico border at the time. She looked defensive, answering, “I haven’t been to Europe.”
Harris visited the border a few weeks later.
Traveling to Europe, while important for diplomatic relations, does not seem so risky internally. In addition to meeting Macron at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday, Harris will take part in a public celebration of Armistice Day on Thursday, the 103rd anniversary of the end of World War I, which Americans celebrate as Veterans Day.
She and Ehmhoff will also visit the American cemetery known as Suren on Wednesday night. Former President Trump visited the same cemetery on Veterans Day in 2018, the day after he was criticized for missing a visit to the American Aisne Marne Cemetery, about 60 miles northeast of Paris, due to rain.
Harris will also take part in a couple of international events with more than two dozen world leaders: a global peace forum dedicated to promoting democratic values and a separate conference on the future of Libya as it struggles to emerge from a decade of conflict. The conference in Libya is being hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will step down after 16 years of leadership following the formation of a new German government.
The Peace Forum began in 2018, to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Trump, who has often opposed international organizations and thwarted multinational conferences, withdrew that year. Harris will be the highest ranking American to perform there.
White House officials say she will focus on “converging global crises, but in particular on growing inequality and the need for leaders around the world to unite and take bold action.”
The message contrasts with Trump’s America First doctrine, which has alienated many European allies, as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to promote the idea that “America is back” on the global stage.
Efforts were undermined to some extent during Biden’s recent trip to Rome and Glasgow, Scotland, as the U.S. Congress continued to disagree over his signed climate program, even as Biden urged other countries to act quickly against rising temperatures.
Democrats now appear to be close to a deal for a $ 1.85 trillion spending package that includes climate change money, as well as a host of social safety nets and other domestic programs. If the deal gets to the Senate, Harris will almost certainly be needed to break the draw because the body is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. But this is unlikely to happen before Harris returns on Saturday.
It is unclear whether Harris’ visit will end the disagreement with France over the submarine contract.
“We haven’t forgotten what happened,” said a French official, who asked to remain anonymous. “But there is clearly a way forward.”
But it will likely be the last major gesture from the American side, said Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, which deals with France and resides in The Hague.
“The problem in France is not the loss of the contract. It’s a loss of face, ”he said. “Kamala Harris’s visit will be the cornerstone of the symbolism the French are looking for.”