President Joe Biden has told Emmanuel Macron the US had been “clumsy” in its handling of a secret submarine deal with Australia, an arrangement that left France in the lurch and rattled Europe’s faith in American loyalty.
Mr Biden and Mr Macron greeted each other with handshakes and shoulder grabs before their first face-to-face meeting since the deal was publicly announced in September, marking the latest American effort to try to smooth hurt French sensibilities.
Mr Biden did not formally apologize to Mr Macron, but conceded the US should not have caught its oldest ally by surprise.
“I think what happened was — to use an English phrase — what we did was clumsy,” Mr Biden said, adding the submarine deal “was not done with a lot of grace”.
“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before,” he added.
The US-led submarine contract supplanted a prior French deal to supply Australia with its own diesel-powered submarines.
The US argued that the move, which will arm the Pacific ally with higher-quality nuclear-powered boats, will better enable Australia to contain Chinese encroachment in the region.
Mr Macron said the two allies would develop “stronger cooperation” to prevent a similar misunderstanding from happening again.
“We clarified together what we had to clarify,” he added, when asked if US-France relations had been repaired.
“What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years,” he said.
Mr Biden and Mr Macron also discussed new ways to cooperate in the Indo-Pacific, a move meant to soothe French tempers over being excised from the US-UK-Australia partnership that accompanied the submarine deal.
Other topics on the agenda include China, Afghanistan and Iran, as well as climate change, before next week’s UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
The French, who lost out on more than 60 billion US dollars from the submarine deal, have argued that the Biden administration at the highest levels misled them about the talks with Australia and even levied criticism that Mr Biden was adopting the tactics of his bombastic predecessor, Donald Trump.
France is especially angry over being kept in the dark about a major geopolitical shift, and having its interests in the Indo-Pacific — where France has territories with two million people and 7,000 troops — ignored.