November 27, 2021

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Biden Calls Handling of Australia Deal That Angered France ‘Clumsy’ – The New York Times

2 min read

ROME — After a six-week diplomatic spat that involved a scuttled nuclear-powered submarine deal and a recalled ambassador, President Biden began a one-on-one effort to mend fences with President Emmanuel Macron of France by saying U.S. handling of the matter had been “clumsy.”

“What we did was clumsy,” Mr. Biden told reporters, sitting beside Mr. Macron just before they began a private meeting. “It was not done with a lot of grace.”

He added, “I had been under the impression long before that France had been informed.”

France had an agreement to build conventionally powered submarines for Australia’s navy, but last month the United States and Britain announced their own deal with Australia for nuclear-powered subs, instead. Australia called off the deal with France, whose officials had not been told that a pact with the Americans and British was in the works, infuriating Mr. Macron and others in his government.

Washington’s European allies were already irritated by the handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which they said Mr. Biden ordered without consulting them. The treatment of the French submarine deal, they said, was further evidence of American dismissiveness.

Since that agreement was sabotaged, the two countries have worked hard to overcome the dispute, and the Biden administration has sent officials to Paris, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to try to smooth things over. Unsatisfied with the niceties, France has demanded “concrete” results.

“Now what’s important is to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future,” Mr. Macron said in his own remarks to reporters. “This is an extremely important clarification.”

Some of those results the French have demanded may be forthcoming, but were not announced when the two spoke to reporters before a lengthier diplomatic meeting.

American and French officials said the United States was prepared to bolster France’s counterterrorism efforts in Africa, including possibly sending additional reconnaissance planes and drones to the $110 million airfield that the United States has built in the desert scrub near Agadez, Niger.

The Biden administration will also try to address one of Mr. Macron’s priorities by giving a guarded backing to a European military force that is separate from NATO, the officials said.

It would also be viewed in Paris as a sign of American respect after the perceived insult of the secretly negotiated Australian submarine deal.

Officials said they hoped the American moves would put to rest the fight between the United States and France.

“The United States is still our major ally,” said Gen. Thierry Burkhard, the French military’s chief of staff. “But what we need is a very clear sign that trust can still be there.”

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