Macron, Biden to speak over phone for first time since submarine row erupted: France

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron meet during the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, on June 12, 2021.
US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron meet during the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, on June 12, 2021.PHOTO: NYTIMES

PARIS (AFP) - United States President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron are to speak later on Wednesday (Sept 22) by telephone for the first time since a row erupted over the sale of submarines to Australia, the French government spokesman said.

Mr Macron was left furious by Australia’s decision, announced on Sept 15, to ditch a 2016 deal to buy diesel submarines from France in favour of nuclear-powered ones from the US and Britain.

Paris was outraged that Australia negotiated with Washington and London in secret behind its back, which French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has denounced as “treachery” and a “stab in the back”.

The call would be an opportunity to “clarify both the way in which this announcement was made and the way for an American re-engagement in its relationship with an ally”, spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a Cabinet meeting.

French officials were notified about the loss of the contract just hours before Mr Biden unveiled the new so-called Aukus security and defence partnership between the three English-speaking countries.

Mr Macron is expecting “clarifications about the American decision to keep a European ally outside of fundamental talks about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”, Mr Attal added, making clear that French anger remains unabated.

“We expect our allies to acknowledge that the exchanges and consultations that should have taken place did not, and that this poses a question about confidence, which all of us need to draw conclusions about now.”

The timing of the call between Mr Biden and Mr Macron, a week since the row began, was also intended to send a further message of French discontent.

The US administration had let it be known on Sunday that the 78-year-old president was seeking a conversation, but that Mr Macron was in no hurry to pick up the phone.

The row has plunged ties into what some analysts view as the most acute crisis since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Paris opposed.

After four years of tumultuous relations with former president Donald Trump, the spat has dashed hopes of a complete reset of Franco-US ties under the Biden administration, which took office in January.

Mr Macron, 43, and Mr Biden met for the first time in person in June at a summit of G-7 countries in Cornwall, south-west England, where they were seen smiling broadly together.

Mr Gilles Gressani, president of the Groupe d’Etudes Geopolitiques think tank, said this week that showdowns with the US are “a constant feature of French foreign policy”.

But he added that “the intensity of (France’s) reaction is striking”.