ROM – When Joe Biden met Emmanuel Macron on Friday there was a clarification but no apology.
AUKUS was “clumsy” and “not done with much grace,” said Biden, but it wasn’t a complete mistake.
The awkwardness about AUKUS – the US-led Indo-Pacific strategic alliance that sparked a bitter diplomatic feud with France – continued when Biden and Macron met in Italy, ostensibly to mend a relationship the two presidents said it has already been patched. but maybe more could be fixed.
When Macron greeted Biden at the Villa Bonaparte, the French embassy to the Holy See, a reporter asked the US president if he should apologize. “Those?” Biden replied.
Pushed to the point, Biden added, “We have already spoken.”
In fact, he and Macon had phoned twice since the whole ugly AUKUS thing was going on.
You spoke once in September when Biden admitted France should have known better that it was losing a multi-billion dollar contract to build submarines for Australia, and that the US would also announce its new Indo-Pacific partnership with Australia and Britain This conversation seemed to defuse the immediate tensions that led France to recall its ambassador to the US – for the first time in the nearly 250-year-old relationship between the countries.
And they talked again only a week ago, when the NATO defense ministers met at Allianz headquarters in Brussels. A description by the White House said: “They also discussed efforts to enable a stronger and more capable European defense while ensuring complementarity with NATO.”
But it was all just before Friday face to face in Rome, ahead of the G20 summit.
Or maybe it was a fret-a-fret.
For its part, France was keen to get a solid pledge from the US that, as one Macron adviser said, would maintain “critical” military support for French operations in the Sahel. Despite Macron’s grand speech on strategic autonomy, France relies heavily on US intelligence and logistical support for its flagship anti-terrorist missions in North Africa.
And Macron seemed particularly keen to take advantage of Friday’s meeting with Biden to portray France and the US as key partners on a long list of security and other political issues – efforts that Biden believes confirm in their recent talks would have.
“In the past few weeks, President Biden has made some fundamental decisions that have benefited our armies,” Macron said, adding, “We have some bilateral partnerships in arms exports, the nuclear sector, the space industry and of course most recognized advanced technology. And we also want to have expanded cooperation on regulations. “
“And then we will continue to work together on the most important international issues – climate change, digital sector, health – that will be on the agenda of this G20,” Macron continued.
“And we will also improve our discussions on arms control, which remains a key issue. In a few words, that has been the core of our work over the past few weeks – what we are going to discuss today. These are very concrete decisions that are made to support some initiatives, some joint initiatives, joint action on all of these matters. “
To underscore Macron’s point of view, the Elysee Palace and White House followed suit with an extensive communiqué, signed by each president, detailing the various partnership initiatives and US intent to “provide their support and material contributions” to to increase the French and European air and naval operations in the Indo-Pacific.
But when Macron was concerned about making it clear that France was ranked, Biden resented that Paris was really offended, and he seemed to overdo it, to reassure, praising France and the Franco-American military alliance that struck the US Revolutionary War is declining.
“We have no older or more loyal, no more decent ally than France,” said Biden. “It was – you were with us from the start. They are part of the reason why we have become an independent country. “
Elsewhere he said: “I want to make it clear: France is an extremely, extremely valued partner – extreme – and a power in itself.”
While powers do not usually need to be reminded that they are powers, Biden persisted and even invoked NATO’s mutual defense clause, Article 5, which says that an attack on an ally is an attack on all.
“And that’s why I want to clarify something in front of the whole press,” said Biden. “We regard you as an incredibly valuable, serious partner. Article 5 means everything to us. You were there for us; we will be there for you. There’s a lot more work we can do together, guaranteed. “
Macron seemed, for the most part, perfectly satisfied with this.
When asked if he was satisfied that relations with the United States had been restored (despite Biden’s apology – not excuse), we worked together to clarify what we needed to clarify.
“Now it is important to be sure that such a situation is not possible for our future,” said Macron. “This is an extremely important clarification.”
With all the presidential spin, it remained less clear how specifically the US was ready to support the expansion of European defense capabilities, or whether France has the support of its European partners in its self-proclaimed endeavor to strike a balance between the EU and the US relationship.
When they met on the steps of the embassy, the two presidents showed their affection, sometimes even holding hands for a moment. There was a slap on the back, and they turned to walk away from the cameras, each with one arm around the other’s shoulder.
Regarding the entire AUKUS affair, Biden said: “I got the impression that France had been informed long in advance that the deal would not come off.”
By this he was undoubtedly referring to the repeal of the submarine treaty that France won by defeating Germany, its EU partner and Japan, another G7 ally.
Not telling Paris about the strategic partnership with the UK and Australia, Biden may have been referring to it when he said, “I think what happened was to use an English phrase … awkward.” It wasn’t done with much grace. “
The meeting began with about half an hour of one-on-one discussion between the two presidents, followed by a 49-minute meeting of an extended group of six advisors on each side.
What was clear, however, was that the meeting was a much bigger thing for the French side than it was for the Americans.
French officials stressed that the meeting was held at a French embassy and hosted Macron and that they controlled the format.
The White House paid a little less attention to detail, so its guidelines for journalists suggested that the meeting be held at the French embassy in Italy, known as Palazzo Farnese, rather than the French embassy at the Holy See Villa. to hold off Bonaparte.
In the end, the presidents and the countries became friends, which no one really thought was in doubt.