Overnight Defense & National Security — US attempts to mend ties with France

Overnight Defense & National Security — US attempts to mend ties with France
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It's Tuesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

The United States and France have inched closer to normalized relations after last month’s U.S. submarine deal with the United Kingdom and Australia created a rift between the two longtime allies.

We’ll break down what the two sides discussed, what was agreed upon, and how much work is left to go to repair ties.

For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Write to me with tips: emitchell@thehill.com.

Let’s get to it.

Blinken meets with Macron amid rift

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris to discuss ways to move forward, including possible U.S.-French cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and other regions, a senior State Department official told reporters.

The roughly 40-minute one-on-one session at the presidential Élysée Palace, described by the State Department official as “very productive” and “serious,” was the highest-level in-person talks between Washington and Paris since the Sept. 15 announcement of the submarine deal.

What caused the break: The new agreement canceled a separate $40 billion submarine deal that France forged with Australia in 2016, prompting Paris to accuse the Biden administration of Trump-era tactics that valued dollars over relations with allies.

France also responded by nixing a planned gala in Washington, D.C., and temporarily recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Australia.

What happened in the latest meeting?: During Tuesday's meeting, the U.S. and France agreed that more work needs to be done to mend the relationship, and the two countries are “still in the early stages of doing that,” the State Department official said, adding that the discussions centered on “using this as an opportunity” to “deepen and strengthen coordination.”

Blinken told the French president that the United States was “certainly supportive of European defense and security initiatives” that do not undermine NATO, the official said.

In addition, they discussed counterterrorism cooperation in Africa’s Sahel region and Afghanistan.

More talks planned: Blinken, who was not initially expected to meet Macron, was in the country to meet with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Macron’s national security adviser Emmanuel Bonne. He is also attending meetings for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development until Wednesday.

The State Department official said Blinken and Macron’s talks will “tee up” a meeting later this month between Biden and the French president, but did not give further details.

The White House later on Tuesday announced that national security adviser Jake Sullivan will also travel to Paris this week to meet with Bonne.

Read the full story here.

KERRY SAYS BIDEN WASN’T AWARE OF SUB DEAL’S IMPACT ON FRENCH

President BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE “had not been fully aware” of the negative impact a U.S. submarine deal between the United Kingdom and Australia had on France after it was announced, according to John KerryJohn KerryClimate policies propel a growing dysfunction of Western democracies Kerry calls out countries that need to 'step up' on climate change Those on the front lines of climate change should be empowered to be central to its solution MORE, the special presidential envoy for climate. 

“He literally had not been aware of what had transpired,” Kerry said in an interview with French broadcaster BFMTV that aired Monday.

Kerry said Biden became aware of the situation after he asked the former Secretary of State what had transpired. 

“I don’t want to go into the details of it, but suffice to say…the president is very committed to strengthening the relationship and making sure that this is a small event of the past and moving on to the much more important future,” Kerry said.

More to work on: Kerry, who spoke with Macron on Monday, said the two countries understand they “have so much to work on.”

“I’m absolutely confident that the bigger issues we have to work on about nuclear weapons, about cyber warfare, about climate…. We have a lot of work to do and we can’t get lost in a momentary event that I think we will get past very quickly.” 

Pentagon requires COVID-19 vaccines for all civilians by Nov. 2

All 700,000 Defense Department civilians are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 22, the Pentagon announced late Monday.

The mandate — in line with the Biden administration’s move last month to require federal agencies to implement vaccine requirements — “will save lives and allow for the defense of our Nation,” according to a memo signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks on Friday.

Lawmaker response: On Tuesday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), said the move “will save lives and further protect communities across the United States from this deadly virus” and applauded it as “the right decision for our public health and our national security.”

Earlier: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in late August ordered all service members and military personnel to “immediately begin” getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

He allowed the military services to set their own deadlines for the requirement, and Hicks's memo stipulates the schedule for when civilian personnel must begin receiving the shots depending on brand.

What’s the timeline?: Those who get the Food and Drug Administration-approved Pfizer vaccine need to receive their first dose by Oct. 18 and the second by Nov. 8.

Individuals who choose the Moderna vaccine have a slightly different schedule, with their first dose needed by Oct. 11 and their second by Nov. 8.

Those receiving the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meanwhile, have until Nov. 8.

Read more on the new memo here.

DOD employees with security clearance to be continuously vetted

sexual assault pentagon harassment military reporting defense department of lloyd

The Defense Department will use a new vetting process for its employees that will continuously scan government and commercial databases for any aberrations, replacing the previous system which scrutinized such information every five to 10 years, defense officials announced Tuesday.

What was previously done: The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) — the government arm that gives security clearances to government employees — previously checked individuals’ criminal histories and credit reports once every 10 years if they had a secret clearance and every five years if they possessed top secret clearance.

What will change: Under the new method, however, the DCSA will automatically scan databases for new information that could crop up. In addition, other agencies will ping the Defense investigators should they discover a criminal investigation or major financial loss occurred with a Pentagon employee, DCSA Director William Lietzau told reporters.

A wider effort: The new scrutiny of Defense employees will aid the Biden administration’s wider plan to address domestic terrorism, an issue put in stark relief following the events of the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol Building by supporters hoping to keep former President Trump in power. A number of current and former military members were found to have participated in the violent attack.

Read the full story here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you Wednesday.