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Biden Speaks With Macron, First Time Since Diplomatic Feud

  • September 22, 2021

U.S. officials were belatedly searching for special projects they could announce to reaffirm the relationship with France, including new initiatives in the Indo-Pacific. But some senior officials said they were concerned that anything they put together might look like a transparent, face-saving effort, especially when compared with the scope of the Australian, U.S. and British partnership.

The core of the announcement last week was a plan to build nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarines, to be operated by the Australian navy, that are clearly intended to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific. The submarines would have a far larger range than the diesel-electric models that France was planning to build under a deal announced in 2019.

But the true import of the new arrangement was far larger: It firmly tied Australia to the Western defense camp in challenging China, after years in which Australian leaders tried to carefully balance their most important defense and intelligence ally in Washington and their biggest customer for natural resources in Beijing. Now, after the Chinese government overplayed its hand with political bullying and major disinformation campaigns in Australia, the country has declared itself a full partner in the Western effort to counter China.

Still, if the move strengthened a new alliance, it weakened an old one: NATO. The decision came as a shock to French leaders, who knew the submarine deal was in trouble but were kept in the dark about the one that replaced it. No decision has been made on the return to Canberra of the French ambassador to Australia, who was also recalled.

The statement before the meeting from the Élysée Palace said that Mr. Macron expected “clarifications on the American decision to keep an ally out of exchanges establishing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.”

That statement, reflecting Mr. Macron’s anger over what is seen in France as a betrayal, added that the United States should fully recognize “the necessity of reinforcing European sovereignty, as well as the importance of the growing European engagement in their defense and their security.”

The French president did not succeed in securing a reference to “European sovereignty” — a delicate term for the United States as well as several of France’s partners in the European Union — but he did seem to gain U.S. agreement for much of what he sought.

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