President Joe Biden acknowledged in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron that more consultation could have taken place with the French government ahead of last week’s announcement of a new pact between the United States, Australia, and the UK, according to White House officials.
On Sept. 22, the two leaders took part in a 30-minute call requested by Biden to discuss the implications of the defense agreement, known as AUKUS. The deal includes plans for the United States to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the Australian military and replaces a $66 billion deal for submarines struck by Australia and France in 2016.
A joint readout of the call from Élysée Palace and the White House reads: “The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners. President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki later told reporters that the call had a friendly tone. She said Biden “acknowledged there could have been greater consultation, but, again, this call was really focused on the path forward and returning back to normal and the important work we have to do with the French ahead.”
French officials say they were made aware of the AUKUS announcement only hours before it took place on Sept. 15. And, in an unprecedented move, France responded by withdrawing its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington.
During the phone conversation, Macron decided that the French ambassador will return to Washington next week to “start intensive work with senior U.S. officials,” according to the readout. Macron and Biden have also committed to meeting one another in Europe in October. No decision has been made about the French ambassador to Australia, according to Élysée Palace.
France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had called the situation a “crisis” last week, denouncing what he called the “duplicity, disdain, and lies.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters in Washington on Sept. 22, speaking in both French and English, that French officials should “get a grip,” calling AUKUS a “fundamentally great step forward for global security.”
While the Biden administration insists that 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.
Biden reaffirmed “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region,” according to the readout. He’s also scheduled to meet with leaders from Quad member-states, India, Japan, and Australia, on Sept. 24.
Psaki told reporters on Sept. 22 that the announcement of AUKUS last week wasn’t meant to be an indication “that nobody else is to be involved with the security of the Indo-Pacific.”