Tuesday , October 26 2021

Biden maintains the first call with French President Macron since the diplomatic crisis erupted


In the call, Biden seemed to acknowledge the wrong steps in the way the United States approached the talks. A joint statement between the United States and France said afterwards that Macron and Biden “agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations between allies on issues of strategic interest to France and our European partners.”

“President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in this regard,” the statement said.

The admission of error, though indirect, was a sign of the seriousness of the diplomatic dispute between the two sides, which has led to the lowest point of relations between the United States and France since the era of ” Freedom Fries “at the beginning of the Iraq War.

Biden himself has ignored all questions about France’s dispute since the crisis erupted late last week, but officials said he was surprised by Paris’ oversized reaction and wanted to smooth things over with his counterpart. in order to lower the temperature during the phone.

In their call, Biden and Macron agreed to meet late next month in Europe. Biden was already scheduled to attend a Group of 20 summit in Rome in late October.

“The two leaders have decided to open an in-depth consultation process, with the aim of creating the conditions to ensure confidence and propose concrete measures towards common goals,” 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.

Before the two presidents spoke, French officials set a long list of expectations for the phone call, which took place in the wee hours of Washington time. An official from the Elysee, the French presidential office, said Macron expected Biden to offer clarifications on how the deal was joined without consultation with the French.

“We hope that our allies will recognize that the exchanges and consultations that should have taken place did not, and that this raises a question of trust,” the official said. Macron would also try to identify a “solid process in a specific time period and at a high level (that) will allow us to create the conditions to restore trust,” the official said.

Biden requested the call with Macron over the weekend as tensions eased due to the submarine surprise deal, which was considered a significant 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 being removed to Paris for consultations.

The French were quick to publicly announce Biden’s request for a phone call and the White House confirmed the two men were trying to connect. U.S. officials said Biden wanted to talk to Macron soon about the “way forward.”

“We understand the French position,” a senior U.S. administration official said Monday. “We don’t share his vision in terms of how all of this developed.”

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

The French president did not travel to this week’s UN General Assembly in New York, a decision based on pandemic concerns that preceded the submarine spit.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that he would not speak to Macron during the UN this week.

“This is not an opportunity for that right now. I’m sure this opportunity will come in time. But right now I understand the disappointment,” Morrison said.

And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared in light of France’s outrage during an interview outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

“I just think it’s time for some of my dearest friends around the world to take control of this and give me a break,” Johnson said, using a bit of Franglish to suggest that France might be overreacting. He described the deal as “fundamentally a major step forward for global security”.

It is likely that Biden will not similarly lessen French concerns, at least in public. Still, some U.S. officials said they believed France was overly dramatic in its response to the submarine deal and noted that Macron will run for re-election in the coming months.

France has reacted with intense outrage over the agreement between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to create a new security-focused defense alliance 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 movement has also opened a new rift in the Western alliance and provoked growing public criticism from other European officials. Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for Internal Markets, said in an interview with CNN on Monday that “there is something 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 “many questions” need to be answered when it comes to breaking the Franco-Australian submarine agreement.

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

But, in more general terms, the announcement provoked anger in France for being left out of sensitive discussions about the new pact, which they said stabbed them in the back. U.S., Australian and British officials have been in top-secret talks for months over a plan to share nuclear-powered submarine technology, a process that began more than a year ago and accelerated after Biden took office in January. .

Officials familiar with the matter said the discussions remained extremely silent, even within their own governments, given the sensitive nature of the technology, the prospect of angering China and the belief that any word that is filters could waste everything. The process “was undertaken with a high degree of discretion,” said a senior administration official.

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

Biden met Macron the same day, the only one in person so far, and the two men seemed fine: the cameras caught them wrapping their arms around their shoulders as they walked from the beach to the summit site. Officials said the talks between the men, which took place on a sunny deck overlooking Carbis Bay, seemed cordial. But the brewery submarine agreement never came, according to U.S. and French officials.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.

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