What do a new security pact and a cancelled military contract say about France’s place in the world?
Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have held talks in Paris, the French leader’s first meeting with a US official since the AUKUS furore plunged the two countries’ relations into crisis.
The development on Tuesday came as US President Joe Biden’s administration moves to repair the damage caused to ties by excluding France from AUKUS, a new security initiative involving the US, United Kingdom and Australia.
Announced last month, the deal saw Australia eschew a multibillion-dollar contract to buy French-made submarines in favour of a deal for US and UK produced nuclear submarines, angering Paris.
Blinken was in the French capital for a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and told reporters he would address the AUKUS imbroglio during a meeting later on Tuesday with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
A State Department official told reporters that Blinken’s previously unannounced one-on-one meeting with Macron lasted about 40 minutes.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the meeting resulted in a “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”.
Macron’s government had described the secret talks leading up to the cancellation of the Australian contract as “a stab in the back”, and briefly recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.
Paris has portrayed the incident as a strike against Biden’s vows to restore transatlantic ties after former President Donald Trump’s more adversarial approach to European allies.
The Biden administration has since admitted that it handled the situation poorly and could have included more coordination with France.
Washington, however, has said the defence agreement was not meant to be an affront to European allies or to replace pre-existing alliances in the Pacific.
While a September call between Biden and Macron helped cool the spat, Paris says it will take time to overcome the rift and claims the situation underscores a need for Europe to develop its own security and defence plans.
Macron and Biden are set to meet in person in the coming weeks, with the State Department official on Tuesday saying that Blinken and the French president discussed possible joint projects that could be announced following that meeting.
The official did not offer further details.
Blinken’s visit had been planned well before the AUKUS fallout, and its stated purpose is to co-chair a ministerial meeting of the Paris-based OECD on Tuesday and Wednesday on climate change and security.
Former secretary of state, and current US climate envoy, John Kerry is also attending the OECD talks, which are taking place weeks before the next UN-backed international conference on climate, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland.