Biden and Macron agree to meet next month in push to repair ties

France will send its ambassador back to US, joint statement says, after diplomatic spat over Australia submarine deal.

US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron will meet next month as the countries work to repair relations following a diplomatic brouhaha that broke out over a security pact with Australia.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, France and the United States said the two leaders spoke by phone and agreed to meet in Europe at the end of October.

The French ambassador to the US will also return to Washington next week, the countries said, after Paris recalled its envoy in anger over the security partnership between the US, UK and Australia.

“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 statement said.

The Biden administration drew the ire of the French government last week when it announced a security partnership with the UK and Australia that excluded the European Union country.

The agreement, which will see Britain and the US help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, led to the nixing of a conventional submarine deal between the French and Australian governments.

France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia in protest, as diplomatic tensions between the allies reached a boiling point.

The US, UK and Australia unveiled the new alliance, dubbed AUKUS, on September 15, saying it aimed to improve stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison then announced the country would halt a 2016 deal to purchase diesel-powered submarines designed by French firm Naval Group, saying conventional submarines have become “unsuited” to the country’s operational needs.

France quickly denounced the trilateral pact, with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling Paris’ exclusion from the discussions “brutal, unilateral and unpredictable”.

Top US officials moved to allay the French government’s anger in the following days, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged that Washington would cooperate with France and the EU in the Indo-Pacific.

“France, in particular, is a vital partner on this and on so many other things – stretching back a long, long time, but also stretching forward into the future,” Blinken said on September 16.

But France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia a day later citing what it called the “exceptional seriousness” of the US and Australian announcements.

In Wednesday’s statement, France and the US also said the French ambassador would return to Washington next week.

Biden also reaffirmed the “strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region” in his call with Macron, the statement said.

“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.”

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