Biden holds first call with French President Macron since diplomatic crisis began

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In the 30-minute appeal, Biden appeared to recognize the missteps in the way the United States approached the talks. A joint statement between the United States and France then said that Macron and Biden “agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners.”

“President Biden has indicated his continued commitment in this regard,” the statement said.

The admission of rare error, though indirect, was a sign of the seriousness with which the two sides take the diplomatic dispute, which has led to the lowest point in U.S.-France relations since the era “Freedom Fries” at the start of the Iraq War.

In their appeal, Biden and Macron agreed to meet in person at the end of next month in Europe. Biden had previously planned to attend a Group of 20 summit in Rome in late October and an official said the assumption is that the meeting between the two leaders will take place there.

“The two leaders decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions to ensure confidence and propose concrete measures towards common objectives,” the statement said.

Macron also agreed to return his ambassador to Washington after recalling him for consultations in Paris. And Biden expressed support for “the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense,” a long-standing priority for Macron.

The talks were to be tense, although the White House later said the tone was “friendly” between the two leaders. Press secretary Jen Psaki said it was important for Biden to directly convey his belief that “there could have been more talk” before the sub was announced. She stopped before saying that Biden had apologized for what had happened.
Macron had mainly declined to comment publicly on the dispute, waiting to express his rage directly to Biden. But other officials in his government have spared no effort to describe France’s shock and fury over the submarine deal, which deprived France of a major contract and left Paris feeling left out. and decreased.

Biden himself has ignored all questions about the French dispute since the crisis erupted late last week, but officials said he was surprised by Paris’ overreaction and wanted to smooth things over with his counterpart, aimed at lowering the temperature over the phone.

Psaki said the White House would seek to identify how the blackout happened, but avoided saying that Biden blamed anyone for what happened.

“He holds himself responsible,” she said. “However, he certainly has a responsibility to always talk to his team about the best way to handle our diplomatic relations and that is what he does in any scenario.”

Before the two presidents spoke, French officials drew up a long list of expectations for the phone call, which took place in mid-morning Washington time. An official at the Élysée Palace, France’s presidential office, said Macron expected Biden to offer clarification on how the deal was reached without consultations with the French.

“We expect our allies to recognize that the exchanges and consultations that should have been conducted were not, and that this raises a question of confidence,” the official said. Macron would also seek to identify a “solid process within a concrete time frame and at a high level (which) will allow us to create the conditions for a restoration of confidence,” the official said.

Biden requested the appeal with Macron over the weekend as tensions simmered over the surprise submarine deal, which was seen as an important strategic move to counter China in the region. The French informed the White House on Friday that Macron’s ambassador to Washington, Philippe Etienne, was recalled to Paris for consultations.

The French were quick to publicly announce Biden’s phone call request, and the White House confirmed the two were trying to connect. US officials have said Biden wants to talk with Macron about the “way forward” soon.

“We understand the French position,” a senior US administration official said on Monday. “We don’t share their take on how it all developed.”

While Biden met in person with the Prime Ministers of Australia and the UK on Tuesday, he had no face-to-face meetings with Macron on the books until they spoke on Wednesday.

The French president did not attend this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, a move based on pre-pandemic concerns about the underwater spat.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday he would not speak with Macron at the UN this week.

“It’s not an opportunity for that right now. I’m sure that opportunity will come in time. But at the moment, I understand the disappointment,” said Morrison.

And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to shed light on France’s outrage during an interview outside the US Capitol in Washington.

“I just think it’s time for some of my dearest friends around the world to take this and give me a break,” Johnson said, using a bit of French to suggest that France is maybe reacting. be excessively. He called the agreement “fundamentally a big step forward for global security.”

Biden was not likely to diminish the concerns of the French in the same way, at least in public. Still, some US officials have said they think France is being too dramatic in its response to the submarine deal and noted that Macron is set to compete for re-election in the coming months.

France has reacted with great indignation to the agreement between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to create a new defense alliance focused on security in Asia. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Biden’s actions were reminiscent of something his predecessor, Donald Trump, could have done but “without the tweets.”

The move also opened a new rift in the Western alliance and sparked growing public criticism from other European officials. Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Markets, said Monday in an interview with CNN that “something is broken between our relations in Europe and the United States”.

In an exclusive interview with CNN on Monday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “a lot of questions” about the breaking of the Franco-Australian submarine deal had to be answered.

France risks losing the equivalent of US $ 65 billion from an existing deal to supply Australia with conventional diesel-powered submarines. The canceled deal is expected to have a significant economic impact on the French defense sector. France is also strategically losing in the Indo-Pacific, where the country holds important interests.

But more broadly, the announcement sparked anger in France at having been excluded from sensitive discussions on the new pact, which they said amounted to a stab in the back. Officials from the United States, Australia and Britain had been in top-secret talks for months over a technology-sharing plan for nuclear-powered submarines, a process that began over a year ago and has ended. accelerated after Biden took office in January.

Officials familiar with the matter said discussions remained extremely calm, even within their own governments, given the sensitive nature of the technology, the potential to anger China, and the belief that any word leaked could potentially do so. fail the whole thing. The process “has been undertaken with a high degree of discretion,” said a senior administration official.

Talks continued at the staff level through the spring before the issue was raised in a meeting between Biden, Morrison and Johnson on the sidelines of the Group of 7 summit, which was held on the coast in June. English. There was no public disclosure of the submarine deal at the time.

Biden met Macron the same day – their only one-on-one to date – and the two seemed to get along well: Cameras caught them putting their arms around each other as they walked from the beach to the top place. Officials said the talks between the men, which took place on a sunny terrace overlooking Carbis Bay, appeared cordial. But the deal on brewing submarines was never reached, according to US and French officials.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.


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