Biden to meet with Macron after submarine spat; Kerry heads to Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference Aug. 28, 2021, in Baghdad. (Ludovic Marin/POOL/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
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Jenny Leonard and Ania Nussbaum Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to meet in person with French President Emmanuel Macron in October, seeking to mend ties after a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine deal with Australia that outraged officials in Paris.

Biden held a phone call with the French president Wednesday, the first time the two leaders spoke since the submarine deal was announced last week. In a joint statement, the two countries said Biden and Macron “agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners.”

The agreement between the U.S., Australia and the U.K. scuttled a previous $66 billion deal for France to build a diesel-powered sub fleet for Australia. French officials complained they were taken by surprise and cut out of talks on a broader defense alliance between the three English-speaking countries.

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While Biden sought to smooth relations, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told France to get over it. “I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to ‘prenez un grip’ about this and ‘donnez-moi un break,’” Johnson told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

In an unprecedented move, France recalled its ambassador from Washington on Friday in protest of the submarine deal. Macron will return the ambassador next week, according to the joint statement.

The French also asked that a U.S. and European Union summit scheduled for next week be postponed. Separately, John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, will attend a Macron-hosted summit on green finance for sovereign wealth funds on Oct. 4, according to two people familiar with the event.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki described the tone of the Biden-Macron call as “friendly” and declined to characterize Biden’s comments as an apology.

“He acknowledged there could have been greater consultation,” she told reporters in a briefing.

The White House has said it was Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s obligation to inform France he was ending their deal for diesel-powered subs. Morrison has said he had made concerns about the French subs clear to Macron’s government and that they wouldn’t meet Australia’s future security needs.

Biden and Macron will meet in Europe, according to the statement. The U.S. president is already scheduled to attend the Group of 20 summit in Rome and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, at the end of October and beginning of November.

Psaki said the White House and Macron’s government are “still finalizing” details of the meeting.

For the Biden administration, the incident was a reminder that it needs to tend to its European relationships, even as Asia and the Middle East occupy much of senior officials’ attention. The joint statement suggested that the U.S. will take new steps to nurture its ties with France and other European allies.

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