Nuclear Diplomatic Dispute
OpenLife Nigeria reports that on Wednesday, President Joe Biden spoke, for the first time, with French President Emmanuel Macron after a major diplomatic crisis exploded between the two longtime allies over a deal to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
In the call, Biden appeared to acknowledge missteps in how the United States approached the talks. A joint statement between the United States and France afterward said Macron and Biden “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 said.
The rare, if indirect, admission of error was a signal of how seriously both sides are taking the diplomatic dispute, which has led to the lowest point in relations between the United States and France since the “Freedom Fries” era at the start of the Iraq War.
The talks were expected to be tense. Macron has mostly withheld comment publicly on the dispute, waiting to air his rage directly to Biden. But other officials in his government have spared nothing in describing France’s shock and fury at the submarine agreement, which deprived France of a major contract of its own and left Paris feeling excluded and diminished.
Biden himself has ignored all questions on the France dispute since the crisis erupted at the end of last week, but officials said he was surprised by the outsized reaction from Paris and wanted to smooth things over with his counterpart, aiming to lower the temperature over the phone.
In their call, Biden and Macron agreed to meet at the end of next month in Europe. Biden had already planned to attend a Group of 20 summit in Rome at the end of October.
“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 read.
Macron also agreed to return his ambassador to Washington after recalling him for consultations in Paris. And Biden voiced support for “the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense,” a longtime priority for Macron.
Before the two presidents spoke, French officials laid out a lengthy list of expectations for the telephone call, which occurred mid-morning Washington time.
An official at the Élysée, the French presidential office, said Macron expected Biden to offer clarification for how the deal came together without consultations with the French.
“We expect our allies to recognize that the exchanges and consultations that should have been conducted were not, and that this poses a question of trust,” the official said.
Macron would also seek to identify a “solid process in a concrete time frame and at a high level (that) will allow us to create the conditions for restoring trust,” the official said.
Biden requested the call with Macron over the weekend as tensions simmered over the surprise submarine deal, which was viewed as a significant strategic move to counter China in the region. The French informed the White House on Friday that Macron’s ambassador in Washington, Philippe Etienne, was being recalled to Paris for consultations.
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.”
“We understand the French position,” a senior US administration official said Monday. “We don’t share their view in terms of how this all developed.”
While Biden met in person on Tuesday with the prime ministers of Australia and the United Kingdom, he did not have any in-person meetings with Macron on the books until they spoke on Wednesday.
The French President did not travel to this week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, a decision-based in pandemic concerns that predated the submarine spat.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tuesday he would not speak with Macron during the UN this week.
“That is not an opportunity for that at this time. I’m sure that opportunity will come in time. But right now, I understand the disappointment,” Morrison said.