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When Emmanuel Macron got angry at the surprise announcement of a new US-led Indo-Pacific strategy, some Washington officials may have thought the French president should howl a river. But more important, according to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, is that US President Joe Biden Macron never told Macron to jump into a lake.
“When our French counterparts raise concerns, when others ask questions, our answer is not … ‘Jump into a lake'”, so “other previous American governments might have responded,” Sullivan told reporters in Brussels on Thursday. He didn’t need to name the former President Donald Trump.
Sullivan described the Biden government’s response to the French consternation: “It was a matter of taking decisive action and I believe that being in direct contact with the French in a very short time is very effective in order to have a conversation between the two To lead presidents. to make a joint statement, to bring about the return of their ambassador and then to have an ongoing diplomatic conversation. “
He stated that on Friday he would be the third senior envoy to travel to Paris from Washington this week alone, with Undersecretary Victoria Nuland on Monday and Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken on Tuesday. Macron said this week he wasn’t convinced the relationship was back on track.
The new Indo-Pacific partnership between Australia, the UK and the US – known as AUKUS – also led to criticism from EU leaders who, according to Sullivan, “made early and aggressive contact with the Member States and the Union itself that I visit today. “
During a round table discussion with reporters, Sullivan was challenged several times over allegations by European allies that Washington had not consulted adequately and that Biden had explicitly disregarded concerns about the plan to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Regarding Afghanistan, Sullivan insisted that there had been enough consultation but that Europeans simply disagreed with Biden’s decision.
“If you look at the pattern of consultation on Afghanistan, at the ministerial level, at the White House level, at the presidential level over the weeks, and leading up to the president’s speech on the 16th, it was intense, it became sustained, it was systematically, ”said Sullivan. “And I think the real problem is that many allies disagreed with the outcome of the decision.”
He added: “But I actually believe that the form and content of this consultation was quite intense. And frankly, it wasn’t until mid-April that the president made his final decision because he took into account the feedback from the allies who said they had disagreements about how to proceed with the troop presence in Afghanistan. “
Allies in NATO may remember this sequence of events slightly differently when Blinken arrived in Brussels to brief them on Biden’s impending withdrawal plan. But on AUKUS, Sullivan admitted that the White House dropped the ball.
“With regard to AUKUS, we said that we could have improved the method of consultation on this,” he said.
Overall, he insisted that the Biden administration was committed to working closely with partners, and even gave examples of when EU leaders were right and Washington was wrong – at least when Washington was controlled by Trump and the EU was making decisions agreed the Biden, Sullivan and others were involved during the Obama administration.
This included the EU’s strong defense against the nuclear deal with Iran known as the JCPOA.
“The Europeans were right that we shouldn’t have left the JCPOA,” said Sullivan. “You were right that we shouldn’t have left the Paris Agreement. I would say they were right, more right than wrong, many of them about the likely costs and consequences of the invasion of Iraq. So these are examples of the use of force, climate change and nuclear proliferation. “
He said the current state of transatlantic relations is far better than it has been portrayed in recent weeks.
“My view is if you look at the entirety of how our government has dealt with the positives – the Trade and Technology Council, the Boeing-Airbus deal, the G7 communiqué, the US-EU summit, NATO Summit here. “Year – and with the challenges, it reflects a full commitment to diplomacy and guidance, leveraging personal relationships that have been built over time and have supported us through difficult times,” he said.
“The President’s own relationships and credibility have been a great asset in that regard,” added Sullivan. “We have the feeling that right now we are in a moment in which we have a chance of intensity, focus and purpose both in our most important bilateral relations in Europe and in the NATO and EU context.”
Sullivan also said that Biden was genuinely ready to support greater European military and defense capabilities, a key point in the joint statement with Macron aimed at smoothing out the AUKUS dispute. But Sullivan said it was crucial to go into details.
“The President reduced it to a simple statement in the joint statement with President Macron, namely that the United States recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense that complements NATO,” said Sullivan. “And I think skills are key here. In our view, important European countries are working to develop improved capabilities that are interoperable and can be used in the service of a larger common mission – this is fundamentally positive from the United States’ perspective. “
But he said the conversation should move away from rhetorical terms like “strategic autonomy”, which are often used in the EU to describe skills-building efforts independent of the US
“I think the way to go about this is to get practical and specific,” Sullivan said. “It is not a question of speaking in terms of theology of certain concepts or the philosophy of certain structures. It’s about talking about the what, the how, and the when. And then that the United States strongly supports and continues to do so. “
He said Washington still wants to see NATO allies spend more on their military, but added, “Cash is only part of that. Who has what skills? And how are they then used in the service of the common mission? “
On China policy, Sullivan said that Washington and Europe are getting much closer to a common approach and that some reported perspective differences are imprecise.
“I actually believe the US-Europe conversation narrative about China is a bit caricatured – it’s the US that comes in and yells at Europeans to be tougher, and they’re not tougher, and it just does. “Not even remotely grasping what is actually going on in this conversation,” he said. “What is actually happening in this conversation is a broad recognition of the great challenges that Europe and the United States are facing in terms of economic practices, technology and increased security, and multiple domains across the Atlantic. And then an in-depth discussion about the tools, the tool mix, the tool sequence that should be used to deal with them. “
Sullivan said talks between leaders, including the G7 summit in the UK earlier this year, helped fill any gaps.
“We see this as a process, we see it as an arrow in a direction that tends towards more convergence between the US and Europe,” said Sullivan. “But in order to achieve this convergence, each of us has to understand and adapt the interests and perspectives of the other. And that is the spirit that the Biden government brings to this subject. “