France’s Ambassador to the U.S., Philippe Etienne, will return to Washington next week. This was announced after U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, on Wednesday.
This was the first call between the two leaders after a falling out over the September 15 announcement of a trilateral security partnership (AUKUS) between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S., which led France to recall its envoys to the U.S. and Australia. The call was initiated at Mr. Biden’s request, a joint statement said.
It is quite rare for statements to specify who initiated the call and suggests the Biden administration is engaged in significant damage control with the U.S.’s oldest ally. The AUKUS pact was worked out behind closed doors and came as a surprise to other nations, enraging Mr. Macron.
The French said the establishment of AUKUS had significantly disrupted their plans in the Indo-Pacific and also had come at a hefty price tag. France and Australia signed a $66 billion deal in 2016 under which Australia got diesel electric submarines. Australia is now exiting that deal as a result of AUKUS, whose main deliverable, for now, is providing Australia with a fleet of superior submarines that run on nuclear fuel.
“The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners. President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard,” the statement said.
Mr. Etienne will begin “intensive work” with U.S. officials when he gets back next week, the White House said, to build confidence between the two countries, whose leaders will next meet in Glasgow at the UN Conference on climate.
“President Biden reaffirms the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the framework of the European Union’s recently published strategy for the Indo-Pacific,” the joint statement said, presumably responding to a statement from French officials calling for greater strategic autonomy for Europe following the AUKUS announcement.
Wednesday’s statement also said that Mr. Biden recognised the importance of a more capable and strong European defence contributing to transatlantic and global security and complimenting NATO.