Washington : In a phone call that helped mend fences, US President Joe Biden acknowledged that the diplomatic fallout with France over a new defence deal with Australia could have been better handled, while speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron, and the two leaders are to meet next month, the White House said.
As a result of the 30-minute “friendly phone call”, France is sending back its ambassador to Washington this week.
In a statement, the White House said the phone call was held at the request of US President Biden, “in order to discuss the implications of the announcement on September 15” – referring to the tripartite defence partnership ‘AUKUS’ announced between Australia, the US and UK, and a deal to help Canberra acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
As a result, Australia announced it was dumping an earlier deal — worth $66 billion — with France for electric-powered submarines. The move angered Paris and led to the recall of its ambassadors from the US and Australia.
During the phone call on Wednesday, “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. President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard”, the White House said.
Both sides 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.
“They will meet in Europe at the end of October in order to reach shared understandings and maintain momentum in this process. President Emmanuel Macron has decided that the French Ambassador will return to Washington next week. He will then start intensive work with senior US officials,” it said.
President Biden also reaffirmed the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the framework of the European Union’s recently published strategy for the Indo-Pacific.
The United States also recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defence, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO, it said.
In the framework of their joint fight against terrorism, the United States commits to reinforcing its support to counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel conducted by European states, the statement read.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the phone call: “In terms of the tone of the call: It was friendly. It was one where — we’re hopeful and the President is hopeful this is a step in returning to normal in a long, important, abiding relationship that the United States has with France. “
“It was about 30 minutes long. As we noted in the readout and as you said, it was extensive. But part of the — and during the conversation, the President reaffirmed the strategic importance of France — French and European engagement, I should say, in the Indo-Pacific region — something that we look forward to continuing to work with them on.”
“And I will say that the President during this call, as we said in the readout, acknowledged that there could be more of a — there could have been more discussion in advance of the announcement. And that was an important — an important message for him to convey during that conversation.”
Ahead of the call, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal had said Macron was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments for re-engagement” from Biden.