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Biden, Macron Speak, Tensions Diminish 09/23 06:18

   The most significant rift in decades between the United States and France 
seemed on the mend Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron and 
President Joe Biden got on the phone Wednesday to smooth things over.

   PARIS (AP) -- The most significant rift in decades between the United States 
and France seemed on the mend Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron 
and President Joe Biden got on the phone Wednesday to smooth things over.

   In a half-hour call that the White House described as "friendly," the two 
leaders agreed to meet next month to discuss the way forward after the French 
fiercely objected when the U.S., Australia and Britain announced a new 
Indo-Pacific defense deal last week that cost the French a submarine contract 
worth billions. France also agreed to send its ambassador back to Washington.

   The White House made a point of releasing a photograph of Biden smiling 
during his call with Macron.

   In a carefully crafted joint statement, the two governments said Biden and 
Macron "have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at 
creating the conditions for ensuring confidence."

   So did Biden apologize?

   White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped the question repeatedly, 
allowing that Biden did acknowledge "there could have been greater 

   "The president is hopeful this is a step in returning to normal in a long, 
important, abiding relationship that the United States has with France," she 

   The call suggested a cooling of tempers after days of outrage from Paris 
directed at the Biden administration.

   In an unprecedented move, France last week recalled its ambassadors to the 
United States and Australia to protest what the French said amounted to a stab 
in the back by allies. As part of the defense pact, Australia will cancel a 
multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and 
acquire U.S. nuclear-powered vessels instead.

   It was clear there is still repair work to be done.

   The joint statement said the French ambassador will "have intensive work 
with senior U.S. officials" upon his return to the United States.

   Biden and Macron agreed "that the situation would have benefitted from open 
consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our 
European partners," the statement said.

   Biden reaffirmed in the statement "the strategic importance of French and 
European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region."

   British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a visit to Washington, didn't 
mince words in suggesting it was time for France to move past its anger over 
the submarine deal, saying French officials should "get a grip." Using both 
French and English words, he added they should give him a "break."

   Johnson said the deal was "fundamentally a great step forward for global 
security. It's three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, 
creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology."

   "It's not exclusive. It's not trying to shoulder anybody out. It's not 
adversarial towards China, for instance."

   Psaki declined to weigh in on whether Johnson's comments were constructive 
at a moment when the U.S. was trying to mend relations with France.

   The European Union last week unveiled its own new strategy for boosting 
economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and 
China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the 

   The United States also "recognizes the importance of a stronger and more 
capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and 
global security and is complementary to NATO," the statement said.

   No decision has been made about the French ambassador to Australia, the 
Elysee said, adding that no phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott 
Morrison was scheduled.

   Earlier Wednesday, Macron's office had said the French president was 
expecting "clarifications and clear commitments" from Biden, who had requested 
the call.

   French officials described last week's U.S.-U.K.-Australia announcement as 
creating a "crisis of trust," with Macron being formally notified only a few 
hours beforehand. The move had prompted fury in Paris, with French Foreign 
Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a "stab in the back."

   France's European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the 
top of the bloc's political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.

   Following the Macron-Biden call, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met 
in New York with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as the administration 
worked to repair the damage done to broader EU-U.S. relations by the deal.

   Blinken spoke of the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation on any number 
issues "quite literally around the world, to include of course Afghanistan and 
the Indo-Pacific and Europe and beyond."

   Borrell, taking note of the phone call, said he hoped to be able to "build a 
stronger confidence among us following the conversation that had been taking 
place this morning between President Biden and President Macron. I'm sure we'll 
be working together."

   The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain's Daily 
Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the 
country's permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council to the European Union if 
the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.

   Psaki echoed Johnson's point that the creation of the new security alliance 
-- which has been dubbed AUKUS -- wasn't meant to freeze out other allies on 
Indo-Pacific strategy.

   "During the conversation, the president reaffirmed the strategic importance 
of France -- French and European nations I should say -- in the Indo-Pacific 
region," Psaki said.

   The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more 
assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

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