Biden commits to communication with France after submarine spat

President Joe Biden acknowledged Wednesday his administration should have consulted with the French government before announcing a new trilateral security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom, which saw Australia renege on a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with France.

According to a joint statement released by the White House describing a phone call between Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron — which the statement noted came at Biden’s request — they “agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners. President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”

The statement also announced plans for Biden and Macron to meet in Europe at the end of October, as well as Macron’s decision that French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne would return to his post in Washington next week. The envoy had been recalled last Friday amid the diplomatic row.

“The two leaders have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives,” the statement said, adding that Biden and Macron’s planned meeting next month was intended “to reach shared understandings and maintain momentum in this process.”

The conversation between the American and French presidents appeared to mark a deescalation in what has been one of the most tumultuous periods of the U.S.-French relationship in recent memory — an episode during which the United States’ oldest ally openly criticized the Biden administration for not making Macron’s government aware of the Australia-U.K.-U.S. partnership.

The joint readout conceded the U.S. should not have left France in the dark about the security pact — although that was more explicit in the French-language version of the text. In that summary, the two leaders “agreed that open consultations between allies on questions of strategic interest for France and European partners would have allowed this situation to be avoided.”

Under the terms of the deal, announced last Wednesday, the three countries will work together over the next 18 months to share advanced technologies that will allow Australia to acquire American-made nuclear submarines. The alliance represents a thinly veiled international effort to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

But in joining forces with the United States and the United Kingdom, Australia abandoned a separate agreement to purchase $90 billion worth of French-designed diesel-electric submarines — angering Macron and prompting several world leaders to criticize Biden for the surprise pact he brokered with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Finally, Macron got explicit reassurance from Biden on continued U.S. support to France’s counterterrorism operations in the Sahel region of Africa. American military intelligence support has been crucial for France’s operations, but there have been doubts about whether the U.S. would continue to provide it.

POLITICO Europe’s Rym Momtaz contributed to this report.

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President Joe Biden acknowledged Wednesday his administration should have consulted with the French government before announcing a new trilateral security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom, which saw Australia renege on a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with France.

According to a joint statement released by the White House describing a phone call between Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron — which the statement noted came at Biden’s request — they “agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners. President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”

The statement also announced plans for Biden and Macron to meet in Europe at the end of October, as well as Macron’s decision that French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Etienne would return to his post in Washington next week. The envoy had been recalled last Friday amid the diplomatic row.

“The two leaders have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives,” the statement said, adding that Biden and Macron’s planned meeting next month was intended “to reach shared understandings and maintain momentum in this process.”

The conversation between the American and French presidents appeared to mark a deescalation in what has been one of the most tumultuous periods of the U.S.-French relationship in recent memory — an episode during which the United States’ oldest ally openly criticized the Biden administration for not making Macron’s government aware of the Australia-U.K.-U.S. partnership.

The joint readout conceded the U.S. should not have left France in the dark about the security pact — although that was more explicit in the French-language version of the text. In that summary, the two leaders “agreed that open consultations between allies on questions of strategic interest for France and European partners would have allowed this situation to be avoided.”

Under the terms of the deal, announced last Wednesday, the three countries will work together over the next 18 months to share advanced technologies that will allow Australia to acquire American-made nuclear submarines. The alliance represents a thinly veiled international effort to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

But in joining forces with the United States and the United Kingdom, Australia abandoned a separate agreement to purchase $90 billion worth of French-designed diesel-electric submarines — angering Macron and prompting several world leaders to criticize Biden for the surprise pact he brokered with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Finally, Macron got explicit reassurance from Biden on continued U.S. support to France’s counterterrorism operations in the Sahel region of Africa. American military intelligence support has been crucial for France’s operations, but there have been doubts about whether the U.S. would continue to provide it.

POLITICO Europe’s Rym Momtaz contributed to this report.

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