Biden and Macron stage reconciliation after Australian submarine crisis

US President Joe Biden speaks with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, during the G7 summit last June. / reuters

The president of the USA calls his French counterpart and admits his mistake in not consulting strategic questions with his European partners

BEATRIZ JUDGE Correspondent. Paris

Diplomatic thaw between Paris and Washington after days of tension over the so-called Australian submarine crisis. US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron staged the reconciliation on Wednesday with a simple phone call. In a joint statement from the White House and the Elysee Palace, they announced that they will meet at the end of October in Europe to reduce tensions, without specifying the date or place of the meeting. The French ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne, will return to the legation next week.

The conversation was requested by Biden after Macron called his diplomatic representatives in Washington and Canberra for consultations last week. In this way, both leaders decided to tackle the most serious disagreement between the two countries since France’s negative vote to the Iraq war in 2003.

With the call for consultations from its ambassadors, an unusual gesture among allies, Paris wanted to publicly express its discontent. The Elysee Palace considered that Washington torpedoed the commercial agreement signed for the purchase of French submarines by Australia, an operation valued at 56,000 million euros.

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The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom announced on the 15th the creation of Aukus, a strategic military alliance between these three countries to share advanced defense technology and counteract China’s advances in the Indo-Pacific area.

To the surprise of Paris, Canberra suspended the commercial commitment to buy twelve conventionally-powered submersibles by achieving, thanks to this military alliance with Washington and London, access to nuclear ships with North American technology.

Macron’s team felt cheated and ignored by their allies, and staged a diplomatic tantrum. Not only had the French defense conglomerate Naval Group lost “the contract of the century,” as the press calls it, but France felt publicly humiliated by negotiating the Aukus alliance behind its back.

“Backstab”

The Elysee accused the United States, United Kingdom and Australia of treason, disloyalty and breaking the necessary trust between allies. The Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, even spoke of “stabbing in the back” and Macron demanded an explanation from Biden for what happened. Both leaders acknowledged on Wednesday that this diplomatic crisis would have been avoided if there had been “open consultations on issues of strategic interest to France and its European partners.”

Biden reiterated that “the engagement of France and the European Union in the Indo-Pacific region is of strategic importance.” And he also recognized that “it is necessary for European defense to be stronger and more efficient, contributing positively to transatlantic and global security, and completing the role of NATO,” according to the joint statement. The president of the United States also pledged to reinforce Washington’s support for the counterterrorism operations of European countries in the Sahel region, “within the framework of their common fight against terrorism.”

Macron’s fuss after the cancellation of a multimillion-dollar submarine contract was seen as exaggerated in the other capitals. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recommended that France calm down and control its anger. “I think it’s time for our dear friends around the world to settle down about all this and give me a break,” Johnson said jokingly, speaking half English, half French. The British Prime Minister assured that this alliance is positive for the security of the area and that with it “they did not try to leave anyone out.”

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