PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) - President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday (Oct 5) held talks with visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his first meeting with an American official since the scrapping of a submarine contract with Australia plunged relations into crisis.
The one-on-one meeting lasted around 40 minutes with "common agreement that we have an opportunity now to deepen and strengthen the coordination" even though "a lot of hard work remains to be done" a senior State Department official told reporters in Paris.
The Elysee also confirmed the meeting, saying Blinken's visit to Paris would "contribute to restoring confidence".
Macron and Blinken discussed a French push for more security cooperation among European nations, the US official said.
Blinken told Macron that Washington was "certainly supportive of European defence and security initiatives" that can increase capabilities but do not undermine the Nato alliance, the senior State Department official said.
"We view that as a complement to Nato and the president's (Joe Biden's) commitment to Nato, as you all know, is ironclad," the official said.
Macron affirmed that France agreed any new initiative should not be in competition with Nato, said the US official, who briefed reporters in Paris after Blinken met Macron, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Macron's diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne.
Le Drian had taken Blinken on a walking tour of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs at Quai d'Orsay lasting about 90 minutes before the pair sat down for a meeting. Blinken then met Macron and Bonne at the presidential Élysée Palace.
The French government has said it was stabbed in the back by its close allies over the nuclear-powered submarine deal - part of the so-called Aukus security pact between the United States, Australia and Britain announced on Sept 15 - and that it would take time for the wounds to heal.
France briefly withdrew its ambassador to the United States over the affair, before Macron and US President Joe Biden spoke by phone and agreed to hold in-depth consultations.
French officials have been at pains to emphasis that Aukus was a wake up call for EU states and that they should respond to the recent crisis between Paris and Washington by ending the bloc's naivety when it comes to defending its interests and building its own military capacity within the Nato framework.
In his meetings with French officials on Tuesday, Blinken discussed French proposals for more security and counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries in the Sahel region of West Africa, the US official said.
The official declined to give specifics of what might be agreed, saying that Blinken's discussions would "tee up" a meeting later this month between Biden and Macron.
Blinken, who was not initially expected to meet Macron during the visit, found the meeting "very positive", the official said.
"President Macron reiterated that, you know, let's turn this into an opportunity to deepen and strengthen cooperation and coordination, from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific to Africa," the official said, adding that both sides agreed there was still a lot of work to do on the relationship.