U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed to meet in person next month in Europe after a Wednesday phone call in which they sought to ease tensions over a high-profile submarine deal.
A White House statement after the phone call suggested regret over the handling of the deal, in which the United States and Britain will sell at least eight nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. That prompted Canberra to abandon a $66 billion, 2016 contract to purchase 12 conventional diesel-electric subs from French majority state-owned Naval Group.
“The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” the White House statement said.
“President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard,” it said.
The two presidents will meet at the end of October, with both scheduled to attend the Group of 20 summit in Rome at that time.
“The two leaders have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives,” the White House said. The statement did not elaborate.
Macron called France’s ambassador to Washington, Philippe Etienne, back to Paris after the Australian submarine deal was announced. But the White House said Macron has decided that Etienne would return next week and “then start intensive work with senior U.S. officials.”
France was upset by the loss of the Australian submarine deal, but French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed deeper concern over what he characterized as “deceit” by one of its oldest allies.
Le Drian told reporters at the United Nations this week that the United States went behind France’s back and hid the new deal for months.
Australia has sought to augment its naval weaponry to counter China’s military buildup in the Indo-Pacific region.
“President Biden reaffirms the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region,” the White House statement said. “The United States also recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO.”