ROME – When Joe Biden met with Emmanuel Macron on Friday, there was no explanation, but there was no apology.
AUKUS was “awkward” and “wasn’t done with great grace,” Biden said, but that wasn’t a real mistake.
The embarrassment over AUKUS – the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategic Alliance that sparked an outraged diplomatic dispute with France – continued when Biden and Macron met in Italy, ostensibly to mend the relationship for which they are presidents. said it had already been repaired. but perhaps more could be corrected.
When Macron greeted Biden at Villa Bonaparte, the French embassy at the Holy See, the journalist asked the American president if he had to apologize. “To whom?” replied Biden.
Biden added when he pressed the point, “We’ve already talked.”
In fact, they’ve talked to Macon – on the phone – twice since all the ugly business with AUKUS unfolded.
They once talked in September when Biden acknowledged that France should be better aware that it would lose a multibillion-dollar submarine construction contract to Australia, and also that the U.S. would announce its new Indo-Pacific partnership with Australia and the United States. kingdoms This conversation seemed to relieve the immediate tensions that led to France recalling its ambassador to the United States – the first time in a nearly 250-year relationship between the two countries.
And they talked again only a week ago, when NATO defense ministers gathered at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. The description of the White House call reads: “They also discussed efforts for a stronger and more capable European defense while ensuring complementarity with NATO.”
But it all ended before Friday tête-à-tête in Rome before the G20 summit.
Or it was a matter of concern.
France has worked hard to keep the U.S. firmly committed to maintaining what Macron’s adviser called “critical” military support for French operations in the Sahel. Despite Macron talking a lot about strategic autonomy, France relies heavily on U.S. intelligence and logistical support for its leading counterterrorism deployments in North Africa.
Macron seemed particularly keen to use Friday’s meeting with Biden to portray France and the United States as primary partners on a long list of security and other political issues – efforts he said Biden confirmed in their recent talks.
“Over the last few weeks, President Biden has made some fundamental decisions that have benefited our armies,” Macron said, adding: “We have recognized some bilateral partnerships regarding arms exports, the nuclear sector, the space industry and of course the most advanced technology. some broader cooperation in the field of regulation as well. “
“And then we will continue to work on the main international issues – climate change, the digital sector, health – that will be on the agenda of this G20,” Macron continued.
“We will also upgrade our discussions on arms control, which remains a key issue. In a few words, this is what has been at the heart of our work over the last few weeks – something we will discuss today. These are very concrete decisions that are being taken in support of certain initiatives, certain joint initiatives, joint actions in all these matters. “
To highlight Macron’s points, the Elysee Palace and the White House followed with a lengthy message signed by each president, detailing various partnership initiatives and U.S. intentions to “increase their support and material contributions” to French and European air. and maritime deployments in the Indo-Pacific.
But if Macron was anxious to make it clear that France was ranked, Biden worried that Paris was really offended, and seemed to be exaggerating by providing assurances, with great praise to France and the American-French military alliance , dating back to the American Revolutionary War.
“We have no older or no more loyal, no more worthy ally than France,” Biden said. “It was – you’ve been with us since the beginning. You are partly the reason why we have become an independent state. “
On another point, he said: “I would like to make it clear: France is an extremely, extremely valued partner – extremely – and a power in itself.”
Although powers do not usually need to be reminded that powers are, Biden did not relent and even referred to NATO’s mutual defense clause, Article 5, which says that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.
“And that’s why I want to clarify something before all the press,” Biden said. “We look at you as incredibly valuable, serious partners. Article 5 means everything to us. You were there for us; we will be there for you. Together we can do a lot more work, guaranteed. ”
Macron for the most part seemed completely satisfied with all of this.
“Together, we clarified what we need to clarify,” he said when asked if he was pleased that relations with the U.S. had improved (despite Biden’s apology – not the apology).
“It is important now that we are confident that such a situation will not be possible for our future,” Macron said. “That’s an extremely important explanation.”
What remained less clear, despite all the presidential spin, was how concretely the US was prepared to support the expansion of European defense capabilities or whether France had the support of its European partners in its self-proclaimed EU-US balancing efforts. relationship.
When they met on the steps of the embassy, the two presidents showed affection, at one point they even held hands briefly. There was a clap on their backs and they turned and walked away from the cameras, each with his arm around the other’s shoulder.
Regarding the whole AUKUS affair, Biden said: “I had the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal would fail.”
By this arrangement, he was undoubtedly referring to the termination of the submarine treaty that France had won by defeating Germany, its partner in the EU, and Japan, the second G7 ally.
Regarding not telling Paris about the strategic partnership with the UK and Australia, Biden may have meant it when he said: “I think I happened to use the English phrase … awkward.” He added that “this was not done with much grace.”
The meeting began with an approximately half-hour-long one-on-one conversation between the two presidents, followed by a 49-minute meeting of the extended group with six advisers on each side.
It was clear, however, that the meeting was a much bigger deal for the French side than for the Americans.
French officials pointed out that the meeting took place at the French embassy, making Macron the host, and that they controlled the format.
The White House paid little less attention to detail, so its guidelines for reporters hinted that the meeting would take place at the French embassy in Italy, known as Palazzo Farnese, and not at the French embassy at the Holy See, Villa Bonaparte.
In the end, presidents and states proved to be friends, something no one ever thought was much questionable.