Macron: Biden tells French President US has been ‘clumsy’ in handling nuclear submarine deal

The comment came during a closely watched meeting with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, in Rome, intended to mend broken ties after a split over a deal to supply Australia with submarines,

“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before the deal was not made, honestly to God,” Biden said on Friday, sitting alongside Macron at the French embassy near the Holy. Seat.

Last month, the US, UK and Australia announced a new partnership that includes providing assistance to help Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines – a deal according to France was entered into without his knowledge, jeopardizing an existing multi-billion dollar contract to supply Australia with diesel. -motorized submarines.

“I think what happened – to use an English expression – what we did was awkward,” Biden continued. “It wasn’t done very gracefully. I felt like some things had happened that hadn’t happened.”

It was a stark admission of a foreign policy faux pas for a president with decades of experience in this field.

Biden called France “a highly valued and powerful partner in itself.”

“We’ve done too much together, suffered together, celebrated together and enjoyed together for anything to break this. We’re at one of those inflection points in world history. Things are changing. Pieces are changing. of the board move, “he added.

When asked if Macron was satisfied that relations with the United States had been restored, he told reporters: “We have clarified together what we need to clarify.”

“Now what is important is to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future,” he added.

Macron stressed that “what really matters now is what we will do together in the weeks to come, the months to come, the years to come.”

A senior administration official who briefed reporters after the meeting said Macron made no further requests to the president during the meeting.

“President Macron did not really make a request during this session, as we had developed, over the past few weeks, a common agenda, a master plan, a roadmap for the work that the United States and France will do together in the future, “said the official, who requested anonymity.

The two leaders appeared in good spirits ahead of the meeting, waving to the press and smiling before slapping each other on the shoulder as they walked inside the embassy. A statement afterwards was equally sympathetic.

“(Biden and Macron) underscore the strength of the long-standing and historic relationship between the United States and France, underpinned by our shared democratic values, our economic ties and our defense and security cooperation,” said a joint statement by the United States and France issued after the reading of the meeting. “(The leaders) also reiterate a shared commitment to adapt and modernize our transatlantic alliance and partnership in light of global trends and in accordance with the depth of our ties, common values ​​and shared interests.”

The long-awaited bilateral meeting between longtime allies took place ahead of the Group of 20 meeting in Rome and the upcoming UN climate summit in Glasgow. The bilateral meeting follows Biden’s previous meetings on Friday with the Pope at the Vatican and with the President and Prime Minister of Italy.

The location of the meeting – on French territory in Rome – is intentional, a diplomatic source told CNN.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Rome that he expected the meeting to be “constructive and deeply substantive”, and that Biden and Macron would cover a range of issues facing their alliance, from “the fight against terrorism in the Middle East to competition from the great powers on economic, trade and technological matters.”

France’s Ambassador to the United States, Philippe Étienne, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday that the meeting had been “forward-looking”.

“So the past is the past,” he said. “And now we have – the two countries have set out a roadmap, a very substantial roadmap to work on the basis of this principle of close consultation and even closer consultation than before.”

Biden and Macron should be in the same room for other meetings throughout the summits.

In mid-September, the two leaders spoke by phone, appearing to ease some of the tensions over the submarine deal.

During the 30-minute call, Biden appeared to recognize the missteps in the way his administration approached the talks. And, most importantly, a joint statement on the call noted that “the two leaders have decided to open a process of extensive consultations, aimed at creating the conditions to ensure confidence and propose concrete measures towards common goals.”

Friday’s bilateral meeting is an opportunity for these consultations to lead to concrete announcements, Célia Belin, guest researcher at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, told CNN.

“The meeting between the two leaders will be an opportunity to make some announcements and to see whether or not … this crisis has been an opportunity to define … a new common agenda, or if there are kinds long, lingering issues that can’t be addressed, ”Belin told CNN.

Sullivan told reporters on Thursday that the Biden administration was “very pleased with the intensive engagement we have had with France over the past few weeks,” noting his own recent visit to Paris, the president’s two calls with Macron since the submarines and the trip to Paris of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We can’t wait to have the conversation tomorrow because the agenda is really overflowing,” Sullivan said. “There are so many issues where we and France come from common values, common perspectives, common interests, and need to be aligned in terms of our political approaches.”

Outrage in Paris over the submarine deal was rejected by some in Washington, and Belin was not convinced that the United States and France saw the stakes in Friday’s meeting of the same. manner.

“I can tell you that this is highly anticipated on the French side. I wonder if it is highly anticipated on the other side,” Belin said, calling the dynamic “a reflection of the imbalance in a relationship”.

“One is the superpower. The other is this strong middle power. But you have an imbalance. And for France to have a good relationship, or to have a clear relationship, with the United States – that’s also a condition, for example, for influence in Europe, ”she added.

There were other divisions as well, such as the surprise of the murderous and chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which involved NATO allies like France.

Macron used the withdrawal to defend his broader vision of European world leadership – particularly its independence from US national security policy.

During a speech from Baghdad this summer, Macron said: “Whatever the American choice, we will maintain our presence to fight terrorism in Iraq as long as the terrorist groups continue to operate and as long as the Iraqi government asks us to this support.

The meeting between the two leaders, which clearly seeks to restore relations, comes just four months after their last summit with other world leaders in Europe, where Macron praised Biden and called him “part of the club”.

“I think what you’re demonstrating is that leadership is a partnership, and we appreciate it,” Macron said.

And asked at the time if the allies thought America was back, Biden looked at Macron and said, “Ask him,” to which Macron replied, “Certainly.”

The Macron reunion is a small part of a larger theme unfolding as Biden returns to Europe for the summits.

Biden, who came into his presidency saying that US diplomacy had returned after a period of Trump-led nationalism, is back in Europe for the second time since taking office among a more skeptical group of world leaders.

Leaders who will attend world summits in Europe in the coming days, like Macron, have their own challenges.

The French presidential election is in April. Macron, who is seeking re-election, is on a charm offensive with voters. In June, his party performed poorly in regional elections, which were closely watched ahead of the presidential election next spring. However, given the low voter turnout, political experts said it was difficult to draw conclusions.

France will also assume its six-month presidency of the European Union in January – marking a test for Macron’s broader vision. And with the imminent departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron, if re-elected, could become the de facto dean of Europe.

This story was updated with additional details on Friday.

CNN’s Shawna Mizelle, Allie Malloy, Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins, Simone Bouvier and Tara John contributed to this report.

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