President Biden spoke to President Emmanuel Macron of France on Wednesday for the first time since the United States and Britain entered into a broad-based new defense deal with Australia that sank a $60 billion French submarine-building project, prompting France declaring that his oldest ally had delivered a “knife in the back.”
The White House described the conversation as “friendly” just days after Mr Macron recalled the French ambassador to the United States, suggesting that Mr Biden had seriously damaged the alliance. The two leaders agreed to meet in Europe in October, White House officials said, likely on the fringes of Italy’s upcoming Group of 20 summit, although aides said it was possible they could have a separate meeting elsewhere. would have to underline their determination to avoid the damage.
While the United States has not apologized for efforts to keep France in the dark, the statement said that “the two leaders agreed the situation would have benefited from open consultation between allies on matters of strategic importance.” for France and our European partners.”
It said that “President Biden has conveyed his continued commitment in that regard”, and the countries had “decided to open a process of in-depth consultation aimed at creating the conditions for guaranteeing trust and proposing concrete measures for common objectives.” While that statement is written in neutral diplomatic language, it describes the kind of consultations that should be routine among NATO allies.
Although the two countries’ joint announcement vaguely referred to common European defense projects, those did not appear to be new – the wording seemed to be borrowed from previous NATO statements. Nevertheless, U.S. officials were too late to look for special projects they could announce to reaffirm relations with France — including new projects in the Indo-Pacific — though some senior officials said they feared whatever they were working together could look like like a transparent face. savings effort, especially when compared to the size of the Australian, US and UK partnership.
At the heart of last week’s announcement was a plan to build nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarines, for use by the Australian Navy, which are clearly designed to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific. The submarines would have a much longer range than the diesel-electric models France planned to build, according to a deal announced in 2019.
But the real significance of the new arrangement was far greater: it tied Australia firmly to the Western defense camp by challenging China, after years of carefully trying to strike a balance between their key defense and intelligence ally in Washington and their huge natural resource customer in Beijing. Now, after the Chinese government overplayed its hand with both political bullying and major disinformation campaigns in Australia, the country has declared itself a full partner in the Western effort to counter China’s growing influence.
But the move came as a shock to French leaders, who knew the submarine deal was in trouble but were kept in the dark about secret negotiations between Britain, the US and Australia that began last spring.
Mr Macron was particularly offended, Western diplomats said, that Mr Biden made no mention of it when they met at another summit in June. On the same day as that meeting, Mr Biden also met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to finalize the deal. US officials insisted that Biden was not trying to mislead the French, but instead relied on Australia to break the news to Macron. It was not up to the United States, they claimed, to release Australia from its contract with France.
Mr Biden met both Mr Johnson and Mr Morrison separately on Tuesday.
The joint statement on the call between Mr Macron and Mr Biden said nothing about “strategic autonomy”, Mr Macron’s expression for a Europe less dependent on the United States.