President Joe Biden admits his administration was “clumsy” in its handling of a deal that ended a defense contract between Australia and France.
A trilateral agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia—called AUKUS—includes plans for the U.S. to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian military.
It replaced a $66 billion deal for submarines struck by Australia and France in 2016.
“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through,” Biden said Oct. 29 during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in the French Embassy to the Holy See.
“I honest to God did not know that you had not been.
“I think what happened—to use an English phrase—what we did was clumsy,” Biden said. “It was not done with a lot of grace. I was under the impression that certain things had happened that had not happened.”
French officials had said previously they were made aware of the AUKUS deal only hours before it was announced Sept. 15.
Following the announcement, in an unprecedented move, France withdrew its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington.
“What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years,” said Macron during the meeting.
Biden called France “an extremely valued partner” and “a power in, and of, itself.”
The two leaders arranged to meet this month in Europe during a phone call that took place a week after the AUKUS announcement.
During the call the pair agreed “the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies,” according to a joint readout from the Élysée Palace and the White House.
Macron also decided that the French ambassador would return to Washington, and the French ambassador to Australia was later returned to his post as well.
White House climate envoy John Kerry told French media on Oct. 5 that Biden had no idea about the fallout with the French from the AUKUS submarine deal.
“He literally had not been aware of what had transpired,” Kerry said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki later told reporters “of course” the president was aware of the French being displeased about the deal.
The bilateral meeting between Biden and Macron takes place ahead of the G20 meeting in Rome and the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
The pair also discussed European and U.S. strategies in the Indo-Pacific region more broadly, as well as other bilateral defense arrangements and the war against terrorism.
While the Biden administration insists the AUKUS deal is “not aimed or about any one country”, many view it as a response to the increasingly assertive actions taken by China in the Indo-Pacific region.