Macron, Harris paper over diplomatic spat with smiles

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris dodged questions Wednesday about the recent diplomatic crisis between their two countries, opting instead for a photo-op on the Elysée doorstep.

“I’m very happy to be in Paris,” Harris said in response to a question by a reporter about whether she needs to make amends, as she arrived at the presidential palace in Paris on Wednesday evening for a bilateral meeting with Macron.

It has fallen to Harris to wrap up the months-long American contrition/non-contrition tour to mend the bitter feud with France over AUKUS, the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategic alliance with the U.K. and Australia, which sidelined France and stripped it of a massive submarine contract with Canberra in September.    

Macron also ignored a question from the reporter about whether the relationship between the two countries had been repaired, though he did tell Harris he was “extremely grateful for [her] presence.”  

“We do share the view that we are at the beginning of a new era, and our cooperation is absolutely critical for this one,” Macron said at the top of his meeting with Harris.  

The U.S. vice president likely won’t be apologizing for the diplomatic slight any more than her boss Joe Biden did when he met Macron at the end of October in Rome ahead of the G20 summit.  

This is the first time the two have met in person, though they spoke on the phone last February. It is the third high-profile foreign trip Harris has taken in recent months in an effort to beef up her foreign policy credentials. A trip to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this year was marred by gaffes related to the U.S. southern border and a trip to Singapore went largely unnoticed.  

“When the United States and France have worked together on challenges and opportunities, we have always found great success because of shared values and shared priorities,” Harris said at the start of the meeting with Macron.  

On Thursday morning, they will both attend an Armistice Day ceremony commemorating the end of World War I and in the afternoon they will launch the Paris Peace Forum, Macron’s marquee multilateralism event on global governance.  

“It’s symbolically very powerful to launch the Paris Peace Forum this year by the side of a representative of the American government, the vice president,” said an adviser to Macron.  

A prior plan to invite Biden was scrapped once it became obvious that he wouldn’t make two trips to Europe 10 days apart, attending both the back-to-back G20 summit in Rome and COP26 climate summit in Glasgow at the end of October and then returning this week to Paris.  

U.S. officials implicitly tried to dispel any doubt France was getting second-rate billing with Harris stepping in instead. They insisted — repeatedly — to journalists that her trip was a major signal of the importance of the alliance between the two countries. 

“U.S.-French partnership matters to the world. It also matters to the American people, because what we do together is really critical for both of our nations as well as the entire international community,” said a senior U.S. administration official ahead of Harris’ visit. “This trip is extremely important.”  

It’s also important for Harris, personally, at a time when only 28 percent of Americans approve of her, according to a new national poll from USA TODAY/Suffolk University, though foreign policy rarely helps American politicians’ popularity ratings.  

Harris is not very well known in France, and her visit hasn’t received much local media attention yet. 

On Friday, Harris will also represent the U.S. at a summit on Libya.  

“The vice president is exercising American leadership on consequential global challenges and issues,” the administration official said. “This is a great opportunity for her to continue to develop her partnership [with] 25 other world leaders that will be attending both these events: the Paris Peace Forum as well as the Libya conference in Paris.” 

The theme of this year’s forum is centered on gaps in global governance, especially global health, and post-COVID economic recovery and inequalities. These topics were also at the heart of Macron and Harris’ phone conversation last February. 

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