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Biden and Macron agree to meet next month in push to repair ties

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France will send its ambassador back to US, joint statement says, after diplomatic spat over Australia submarine deal.

US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron will meet next month as the countries work to repair relations following a diplomatic brouhaha that broke out over a security pact with Australia.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, France and the United States said the two leaders spoke by phone and agreed to meet in Europe at the end of October.

The French ambassador to the US will also return to Washington next week, the countries said, after Paris recalled its envoy in anger about the security partnership between the US, UK and Australia.

“The two leaders have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives,” the statement said.

The Biden administration drew the ire of the French government last week when it announced a security partnership with the UK and Australia that excluded the European Union country.

The agreement, which will see Britain and the US help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, led to the nixing of a conventional submarine deal between the French and Australian governments.

France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia in protest, as diplomatic tensions between the allies reached a boiling point.

The US, UK and Australia unveiled the new alliance, dubbed AUKUS, on September 15, saying it aimed to improve stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison then announced the country would halt a 2016 deal to purchase diesel-powered submarines designed by French firm Naval Group, saying conventional submarines have become “unsuited” to the country’s operational needs.

France quickly denounced the trilateral pact, with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling Paris’ exclusion from the discussions “brutal, unilateral and unpredictable”.

Top US officials moved to allay the French government’s anger in the following days, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged that Washington would cooperate with France and the EU in the Indo-Pacific.

“France, in particular, is a vital partner on this and on so many other things – stretching back a long, long time, but also stretching forward into the future,” Blinken said on September 16.

But France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia a day later citing what it called the “exceptional seriousness” of the US and Australian announcements.

Natacha Butler, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Paris, said Wednesday’s phone call signals that both countries want to move forward after the spat.

“What is clear from this phone call is that both Macron and Biden, they know it’s in the common interests of both the US and France to improve the relationship and rebuild some of that trust,” Butler said.

“It doesn’t mean, of course, that the French are not going to remain upset for some while.”

In their joint statement on Wednesday, the countries also said Biden reaffirmed the “strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region” in his call with his French counterpart.

“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,” the statement said. “President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the tone between the two leaders was “friendly” during their 30-minute call.

Earlier in the day, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged France to move on from the issue, saying “donnez moi un [give me a] break”, in a mix of French and English.

Psaki refused to comment on Johnson’s remark, but noted that the US-French statement “acknowledged that there could have been more discussion” before the trilateral deal was announced.

“That was an important message for him [Biden] to convey during that conversation,” she said.



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