President Joe Biden on Friday called U.S. government actions “clumsy” during his first meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron since a diplomatic crisis erupted last month over a U.S. security pact with Britain and Australia.
Mr. Biden used the meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Rome to try to turn the page on a relationship that came under strain over the U.S.-Australia security alliance, known as AUKUS, which also includes Britain. The pact effectively cancelled a 2016 Australian-French submarine deal.
The U.S. decision to secretly negotiate a new agreement drew outrage from Paris. France temporarily recalled its ambassador from Washington, cancelled a gala in the U.S. capital and officials accused Mr. Biden of acting like former president Donald Trump.
“I think what happened was, to use an English phrase, what we did was clumsy. It was not done with a lot of grace,” Mr. Biden said. “I was under the impression certain things had happened that hadn’t happened. And – but I want to make it clear: France is an extremely, extremely valued partner – extremely – and a power in and of itself.”
Mr. Biden also said the United States does not have an older and more loyal ally than France and that there is no place in the world where the U.S. cannot co-operate with France.
“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through. I, honest to God, did not know you had not been,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Macron.
Mr. Macron said his meeting with Mr. Biden was “important” and that it was essential to “look to the future” as his country and the U.S. work to mend fences.
“What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years,” Mr. Macron said.
Since the rift erupted, Washington has taken several steps to fix the relationship.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron spoke to each other last week. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also visited Paris, where he acknowledged the U.S. could have “communicated better.” Vice-President Kamala Harris also announced that she would travel to Paris in November and meet with Mr. Macron.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron met at the Villa Bonaparte, the French embassy to the Vatican, which a French diplomat said was a significant mark of goodwill from Mr. Biden.
“It’s an important gesture,” the French diplomat said, adding that the U.S. recognized that it underestimated the impact of its actions.
France now wants to see if Mr. Biden follows his words with actions. “Trust is being rebuilt. This is one step. Tokens of goodwill were given, we’ll see whether they follow through over the long term,” the diplomat said.
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