President Biden on Friday sidestepped questions on whether there was a need for him to apologize to French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of their first face-to-face meeting since last month’s dust-up over a deal for the U.S. and the United Kingdom to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
“We’ve already talked,” Mr. Biden said in response to a reporter’s question about a possible apology amid frustration in France, which got left out of the U.S.-U.K.-Australia deal, despite having had a previous agreement in place to build conventional submarines for Australia.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron met in Rome Friday on the first day of Mr. Biden‘s four-day foreign trip, which will include participation in the G20 Summit this weekend, as well the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
Last month, the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia announced a new trilateral defense pact, under which the U.S. agreed to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. The deal resulted in Australia scuttling what had been a multi-billion contract to buy French-made conventional submarines.
On Friday, the two leaders appeared to put the kerfuffle behind them.
“What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years,” Mr. Macron said.
“Now what’s important is to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future,” he said. “This is an extremely important clarification.”
Mr. Biden emphasized that France is “an extremely valued partner,” adding that he thought France had been informed of the deal. “I think what happened was, to use an English phrase, clumsy,” the president said. “It was not done with a lot of grace.”
During the days immediately following the announcement of the new U.S.-U.K.-Australia deal, the French had insisted they were blindsided. A subsequent diplomatic rift escalated to the point where Paris temporarily recalled its ambassador to the United States and canceled a gala at its Washington embassy to celebrate the two nations’ close ties.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron spoke over the telephone in September with both leaders saying they were committed to smoothing over the tensions and finding ways to enhance the long-standing U.S.-France alliance, which dates back to the initial years of America’s independence.
In a joint statement about the 30-minute September call, the two pledged to open a series of consultations to work together more collaboratively. Mr. Biden also acknowledged on the call that his administration mishandled the talks.
“The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies,” the joint statement said.
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