PARIS: The US and French presidents moved to mend ties on Wednesday, with France agreeing to send its ambassador back to Washington and the White House saying it had erred in cutting a deal for Australia to buy US instead of French submarines without consulting Paris.
In a joint statement issued after US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone, the two leaders agreed to launch in-depth consultations to rebuild trust, and to meet in Europe at the end of October.
They said Washington had committed to step up “support to counter-terrorism operations in Sahel conducted by European states” though it was unclear if this might mean the deployment of US special forces or merely greater logistical support.
The call, which was requested by Washington, was an attempt to mend fences after France accused the US of stabbing it in the back when Australia ditched a $40-billion contract for conventional French submarines, and opted for nuclear-powered submarines to be built with US and British technology instead. France was outraged by the US, British and Australian security partnership and recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.
“The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” the joint US and French statement said. “President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”
The US “recognises the importance of a stronger and more capable European defence, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to Nato”, it added. The US, Australian and British security partnership was widely seen as designed to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the Pacific but critics said it undercut Biden’s broader effort to rally allies such as France to that cause.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki described the Biden-Macron call as friendly. “We’re hopeful and the president is hopeful that this is a step in returning to normal in a long important abiding relationship,” Psaki said