Biden lauds ally France, calls handling of sub deal ‘clumsy’
President Biden on Friday acknowledged that his administration’s handling of a submarine deal with Australia was “clumsy” as he sought to repair relations between the U.S. and France during a one-on-one meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Italy.
The security pact made between the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia, known as AUKUS, caused a rift between the U.S. and its oldest ally, France, last month and resulted in France temporarily recalling its ambassador to the U.S.
“I think what happened was, to use an English phrase, what we did was clumsy,” Biden told reporters on Friday during the meeting with Macron at the French Embassy to the Holy See. “It was not done with a lot of grace. I was under the impression certain things had happened that hadn’t happened.”
“I want to be clear: France is an extremely, an extremely valued partner,” Biden continued. “We have the same values.”
Biden later said he was “under the impression that France had been informed long before” the AUKUS pact was announced, when in fact Paris had not been.
“We clarified together what we had to clarify,” Macron then told reporters. “And now what’s important is precisely to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future.”
Macron insisted on the need for “stronger coordination” and “stronger cooperation” and said the two countries had taken steps in recent weeks to enhance their ties.
“What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years,” he said.
France was caught flat-footed with the announcement of the AUKUS pact, which deals with security in the Asia Pacific, and reacted angrily to the announcement last month. The pact involves the U.S. and the U.K. selling Australia nuclear-powered submarines and caused France to lose out on a multibillion-dollar deal to provide submarines to Australia.
At the time, one French official likened Biden to former President Trump, who often acted unilaterally to the dismay of U.S. allies.
Biden and Macron have spoken twice over the phone since the spat. On Friday, there were signs of a thawing. Biden and Macron shook hands, sat closely to one another and occasionally smiled in the meeting, giving way to a genial atmosphere that seemed to ease tensions between the U.S. and France in recent weeks.
A senior administration official told reporters following the meeting that the two leaders discussed a range of topics, including Russia, China, Iran and nuclear issues.
The official also said of the U.S.-France relationship: “We’re moving forward.”
“We had some hard conversations in September and October, I think the conversations heading into November will be exciting and engaging,” the official said. “There’s not any sense that there’s some kind of fundamental rift in the relationship, I think, at this point.”
The meeting came at the start of Biden’s second overseas trip as president. Both leaders will attend a Group of 20 summit in Rome and, later, a major U.N. climate summit in Glasgow.
Updated: 3:25 p.m.
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