Oct 30, 2021 – 11:16 KYODO NEWS
ROME – President Joe Biden on Friday admitted to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that the United States was “clumsy” in its handling of a U.S.-British nuclear submarine deal with Australia that stunned Paris and created a diplomatic rift.
The bilateral talks, held in Rome ahead of the Group of 20 summit, was the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since ties soured over the deal, which was announced in September as an initiative of a new “AUKUS” security partnership.
The deal resulted in Australia ditching a French diesel-powered submarine contract for a nuclear option offered by the United States.
Biden said his country does not have an older and more loyal ally than France and praised the European country for being a valued partner.
On the establishment of the AUKUS partnership, which France described “a stab in the back” shortly after it was announced, the U.S. president said, “I think what happened was, to use an English phrase, what we did was clumsy.”
“It was not done with a lot of grace,” he added. “I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the (French) deal was not going through,” Biden said, sitting next to Macron.
France’s disappointment was also associated with the fact that it was left out of what was hailed as a new security partnership focused on the Indo-Pacific region.
France is the only European Union member with overseas territories in the Indo-Pacific and has served as a key driver for broader European engagement in the region in the face of growing assertiveness from China.
The spat over the AUKUS deal led Paris to temporarily recall its ambassadors to the United States and Australia.
A joint statement issued after the meeting of the two leaders highlighted the importance of “robust collaboration” in the Indo-Pacific, citing “growing economic and strategic challenges there.”
“The United States welcomes France’s enduring role as an Indo-Pacific partner, whose long-standing commitment, geography, and military capabilities based throughout the region make it a key contributor and security provider to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.
The United States also vowed to “increase its support and material contribution” to France and other European nations that are increasing their air and maritime deployments in the region, it said.
The leaders also agreed to launch a bilateral defense trade strategic dialogue to discuss export issues and intensify cooperation on space issues.
Asked by reporters whether he was satisfied that the relationship is repaired, Macron said, “We clarified together what we had to clarify.”
“And now what’s important is precisely to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future. Stronger coordination, stronger cooperation,” he added.
Biden is on his second overseas trip since taking office in January, the first having been on the occasion of the Group of Seven summit in Britain in June. He is planning to attend the G-20 summit in Rome from Saturday and a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Britain, early next week.
Earlier Friday, Biden, who is the second Catholic president in United States history and goes to church nearly every week, met Pope Francis at the Vatican and discussed issues such as the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and world poverty, according to the White House.
Cr. KYODO NEWS