WASHINGTON — The White House acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. officials could have consulted and communicated better with their French counterparts over a nuclear-powered submarine deal with Australia that has triggered a diplomatic firestorm with France.
In a joint statement following a call between President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, the two leaders said they agreed that "the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners." The two also said that they will meet in person at the end of October.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a news briefing Wednesday that Biden "acknowledged that there could have been greater consultation, and the call, as I stated earlier, was a friendly call, and there was agreement that we wanted to move forward in our relationship."
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The diplomatic spat between the U.S. and France erupted last week over the deal the Biden administration announced with Australia to provide that country with nuclear-powered submarines as part of a wider security pact that also included the United Kingdom. But the French had been expecting to be the ones to sell submarines to Australia under a 2016 contract.
French officials said they were blindsided by the announcement, which cost them the $66 billion agreement. In response, France recalled its ambassadors from the U.S. and Australia, and canceled a gala at its embassy in Washington.
Following Wednesday's call, Macron said he would allow the French ambassador to return to Washington next week to start "intensive work" with senior U.S. officials to improve relations.
"President Biden reaffirms the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the framework of the European Union’s recently published strategy for the Indo-Pacific," the statement said. "The United States also recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO."
Prior to the call, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal had said Macron was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments for re-engagement” from Biden.
“We expect of our allies to acknowledge that the exchanges and consultations that should have been conducted did not happen, and that raises the question of confidence," Attal said Wednesday. "Therefore, it falls on all of us from now on to bear together the consequences.”