Harris heads to Paris amid healing US-France rift

Vice President Harris is headed to Paris on Monday for a five-day trip that will include a meeting with French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronMacron becomes first major Western leader to go to Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi killing Justice for Josephine Baker means restoring her US nationality Far-right commentator joins presidential race in France MORE, underscoring a broader White House effort to prove the U.S. commitment to France after a high-profile spat back in September.

In meeting with Macron in France, Harris will become the third high-level Biden administration official to meet with the French president in the two months since the United States announced with the United Kingdom and Australia a pact on Asia-Pacific security that robbed France of a lucrative defense contract.

The visit, Harris’s third overseas trip as vice president, will also afford her the opportunity to polish her foreign policy chops. Harris will attend the Paris Peace Forum and participate in an international conference on Libya, where she’s expected to encounter some two-dozen other world leaders.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Macron meeting promises to be the most closely watched on her trip, and will come just over a week after President BidenJoe BidenChina eyes military base on Africa's Atlantic coast: report Biden orders flags be flown at half-staff through Dec. 9 to honor Dole Biden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package MORE sought to smooth things over with the French president in Rome by telling him the handling of the nuclear-powered submarine deal with Australia was “clumsy.”

“The key message for this meeting is the importance of this relationship and the fact that U.S.-French partnership matters to the world. It also matters to the American people because what we do together is really critical for both of our nations as well as the entire international community,” a senior administration official told reporters on a call previewing the trip.

The official said that the U.S. and France are taking a “forward-looking” approach to the bilateral relationship and that Harris is looking to advance cooperation between the two nation “in concrete ways.”

Harris has become an emissary for the Biden administration on several difficult policy issues, including immigration and voting rights, but she’s also been engaging regularly with foreign leaders, including by holding her own meetings with them at the White House. Harris visited Mexico and Guatemala in June and Singapore and Vietnam in August for official business.

The Biden administration has set out to rebuild alliances and reassure allies to tackle global challenges, which Biden has coined as an “America is back” approach to foreign policy.

ADVERTISEMENT
But that aim was tested first by the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and then the row with France over nuclear-powered submarines, which caused one French diplomat to compare Biden to former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE.

Still, Biden’s meeting with Macron last week ahead of the Group of 20 summit seemed to patch things up somewhat.

“I think the Biden administration realized that it mishandled the rollout of the submarine deal with Australia,” said Charles Kupchan, who served as senior director for European affairs on former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden on Bob Dole: 'among the greatest of the Greatest Generation' Moving beyond the era of American exceptionalism The bully who pulls the levers of Trump's mind never learns MORE’s National Security Council. “I think you’re seeing a reengagement plan unfold over a series of weeks aimed at putting relations between Washington and Paris back on a solid footing.”

“I think the Biden team is doing the right thing. There has been a steady drumbeat of phone calls and face-to-face meetings and that’s precisely what you do when you feel you’ve made a misstep,” Kupchan said.  

Harris and Macron are expected to talk about a range of issues, including the Indo-Pacific, global health, European security and health.

In addition to the Macron meeting, scheduled to take place Wednesday, officials said Harris will tour the Institut Pasteur, a biomedical research center in Paris, to meet with U.S. and French scientists working on coronavirus and pandemic preparedness. One official described the stop as “personally important” for Harris, given that her mother conducted breast cancer research with scientists at the institute in the 1980s.

ADVERTISEMENT
Harris will also deliver a speech at the opening ceremony of the Paris Peace Forum, which was founded in 2018, that will focus on the need to address inequality.

A number of world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, will attend the conference on Libya. It’s unclear whether the vice president will make any specific announcements on the trip, or to what degree she will hold bilateral engagements with other officials.  

A senior administration official said the various elements of the trip “are all based on the convictions that solving global problems requires America to be at the table.”

Harris and her husband, second gentleman Doug EmhoffDoug EmhoffThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks up bright side beneath omicron's cloud Biden and Harris host 'family' Hanukkah celebration with more than 150 guests Bidens to attend Kennedy Center Honors following Trumps' absence MORE, will also visit the U.S. military cemetery in Suresnes to mark Veterans Day during the trip.