Friday, October 15, 2021

US-French dispute appears to subside after Biden-Macron call

by Sylvie Corbett

PARIS (AP) — The most significant rift in decades between the United States and France subsided on Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden met on the phone to smooth things out.

In a half-hour call described by the White House as “friendly”, the two leaders agreed to meet next month after France announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal by the US, Australia and Britain. The way was discussed. The week in which France had to contract for a submarine worth billions. France also agreed to send its ambassador back to Washington.

The White House is said to release a photo of Biden smiling during a meeting with Macron.

In a carefully crafted joint statement, the two governments said Biden and Macron have “decided to open a process of in-depth consultations aimed at creating conditions to ensure trust.”

So did Biden apologize?

White House press secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly brushed off the question, allowing Biden to acknowledge that “there could have been more consultations.”

“The president hopes this is a step to return to normalcy in the long, important, lasting relationship that the United States has with France,” she said.

The call suggested a way to quell anger after days of outrage from Paris directed at the Biden administration.

In an unprecedented move, France last week recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for protesting that the French were stabbed in the back by allies. As part of the defense deal, Australia will cancel a multi-billion dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire American nuclear-powered ships instead.

Clearly there is still some repair work to be done.

The joint statement said the French ambassador “will work closely with senior US officials” upon his return to the United States.

Biden and Macron agreed that the situation would benefit from open discussions between allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners, the statement said.

Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a visit to Washington, did not lack words in suggesting that it was time for France to vent its anger over the submarine deal, saying that French officials “should catch up. ” He used both French and English words to say that he should “give them a break”.

Johnson said the deal is “a fundamentally big step forward for global security. It sees three like-minded allies standing side by side, creating a new partnership to share technology.”

“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to run anyone side by side. It’s not anti-China, for example.”

Psaki declined to weigh in on whether Johnson’s remarks were constructive at a time when the US was trying to improve relations with France.

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The European Union last week unveiled its new strategy to boost economic, political and defense ties across the vast region stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and from New Zealand in the east to the Pacific.

The statement said the United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, which makes a positive contribution to transatlantic and global security and complements NATO.”

No decision has been made regarding the French ambassador to Australia, Elysee said, adding that no phone call was scheduled with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Earlier on Wednesday, Macron’s office said the French were expecting “clarification and clear commitments” from President Biden, who requested the call.

French officials described last week’s US-UK-Australia announcement as creating a “crisis of confidence”, which Macron had been formally informed of just hours earlier. The move caused fury in Paris, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back”.

France’s EU partners agreed on Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, which also includes an EU summit next month.

Following the Macron-Biden call, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in New York as the administration worked to repair the damage done to wider EU-US relations by the deal.

Blinken talked about the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation on any number of issues, “really around the world, certainly to include Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific and Europe and beyond.”

Borrell noted over the phone call that he hopes to be able to build a stronger trust between us after the conversation between President Biden and President Macron this morning. I am sure we will work together.”

The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday that said Macron could offer the EU the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council if the bloc defends the EU. But supports his plans.

Psaki echoed Johnson’s point that the creation of the new security alliance – dubbed AUKUS – was not intended to deter other allies on the Indo-Pacific strategy.

“During the talks, the president reaffirmed, I must say, the strategic importance of France-France and European countries in the Indo-Pacific region,” Saki said.

The deal has been widely seen as part of US efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific.

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Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London, Matthew Lee in New York City and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed reporting.

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