Monday October 25, 2021

French envoy to return as Macron, Biden try to defuse row

September 23, 2021
French envoy to return as Macron, Biden try to defuse row

PARIS: US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron had a “friendly” phone call Wednesday to defuse a deep row over submarine sales to Australia, promising to meet in person to repair the transatlantic relationship.

The call, which the White House said lasted about 30 minutes, was the first between Biden and Macron since France recalled its ambassador over the surprise US announcement of a deal to build nuclear submarines for Australia — scuppering a previous French deal to sell conventional submarines.

Biden requested the call with Macron over the weekend. The French were quick to announce Biden’s request for a phone call publicly, and the White House confirmed the two men were trying to connect. American officials said Biden wanted to speak soon with Macron about the “way forward.”

In a joint statement after the call, the two leaders vowed to launch “in-depth consultations... for ensuring confidence” and to meet in Europe at the end of October. The statement also said Macron would order France´s ambassador back to Washington next week.

The talks were expected to be tense, though White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the talk “was friendly” and Biden was “hopeful this was a step in returning to normal.” The statement said the US recognised the need for stronger European defence to complement the NATO military alliance, a key idea repeatedly floated by the French leader.

In what amounted to an acknowledgement of French anger, the English language version of the statement issued by the White House said that the management of the dueling submarine deals “would have benefited from open consultations among allies.” The French-language version issued by the Elysee Palace was even more explicit, saying consultations “would have avoided this situation.”Asked if Biden had apologized to Macron, Psaki said “he acknowledged there could have been greater consultation.”

There was no word about where the October meeting will be but Biden will already be in Rome and Glasgow at that time for the G20 and COP26 climate summits.

Wednesday´s call sought at least to settle the mood, with the White House soon after releasing a photo of Biden smiling while speaking to Macron. In another welcome step for Paris, the joint statement added that the US committed “to reinforcing its support to counter-terrorism operations” in the Sahel region of Africa, where French forces are deployed to fight jihadists.

The EU´s top diplomat Josep Borrell meanwhile called for “stronger confidence” with the US as he met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York.

There is still no indication of France making up with Australia, which says its decision to opt for far more capable nuclear-powered submarines is part of a longterm strategy to contain China´s rising presence in the Indo-Pacific.

An Elysee official, who asked not to be named, said no decision has been made on the French ambassador´s return to Canberra while no call has been scheduled with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.