Biden and Macron discuss 'stronger' European defence in phone call

Biden (left) will meet Macron (right) in Rome later this month.
Biden (left) will meet Macron (right) in Rome later this month.PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed strengthening European defences in a telephone call on Friday (Oct 22), the White House said, as Washington seeks to mend ties after a bitter row over submarine contracts.

The two leaders "discussed efforts to enable a stronger and more capable European defence while ensuring complementarity with Nato," the statement said.

Biden will meet Macron in Rome later this month, and the statement said he looked forward to the chance to "take stock of the many areas of US-France cooperation, and reinforce our shared interests."

The two last spoke on Sept 22 for their first conversation since the furious spat over selling submarines to Australia severely strained relations.

Specifically, Australia agreed to acquire US nuclear sub technology and in doing so scrap a huge, already existing deal with France to buy conventional submarines. The new accord infuriated the French.

Macron recalled France's ambassador to Washington and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian compared Biden's unilateral methods to ex-president Donald Trump's but "without the tweets."

Although Biden did not apologise for secretly negotiating to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, he did acknowledge that the issue "would have benefited from open consultations among allies," according to a statement afterwards.

US officials have since sought to patch up ties, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting Paris earlier this month and holding a one-to-one meeting with Macron.

In their September call, Macron secured what he saw as a significant commitment from Biden to respect French-led efforts to boost European defense and autonomy.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris will also hold talks with Macron in Paris next month, the White House announced.