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In Paris, Blinken seeks to repair relations with France

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with French President Emmanuel Macron to try to repair relations after the Biden administration infuriated France with an Indo-Pacific military pact.

(CN) — With U.S.-French relations at an extremely low point following France's exclusion from an Indo-Pacific military pact, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to smooth out tensions during a visit to Paris this week.

On Tuesday, Blinken met with French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for talks ahead of a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Macron at the end of October.

Both sides issued only statements about what was discussed.

The French government said Blinken and Macron spoke about areas of collaboration, but added that “a lot of difficult work remains to be done to identify concrete decisions.”

The State Department said Blinken and Macron “discussed steps forward in U.S.-French relations, areas of continued close cooperation” and looked forward to the meeting between Biden and Macron.

In the middle of September, a major rift opened up between France and the U.S. over a decision by Australia to scrap a multibillion-dollar French submarine contract and declare its intention to build nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

In France, the submarine deal was labeled the “contract of the century” for French industry and it was helping bring the two countries closer together. With its territories in French Polynesia and about 2 million French nationals there, France has a lot at stake in the Pacific Ocean.

The so-called AUKUS military pact infuriated France. Le Drian called the pact among Anglo powers “a stab in the back” and he likened it to the kind of “unilateral, brutal, unpredictable” behavior he associated with former President Donald Trump. Macron even called France's U.S. ambassador back to Paris for consultations.

The diplomatic spat grew so contentious that Biden stepped in and spoke to Macron on Sept. 22 by telephone. Biden promised to hold in-depth talks with France “aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives.” The two presidents also agreed to meet at the end of October.

The row has threatened to sour relations between the European Union and the U.S. at a moment when it seemed that the transatlantic relationship was set for a revival with Biden in the White House.

Only four months ago, European leaders and Biden were all smiles at a Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, where they vowed to work together to tackle global crises and defend democratic values.

The state of relations between Europe and the U.S. will be tested in November when world leaders meet at a United Nations climate conference in Glasgow. The conference is being billed as a crucial moment to find global agreements on tackling global warming.

The rift between France and the U.S. over the AUKUS pact has deep implications.

France is the EU's top military power since Great Britain's exit from the EU and France is pushing other European nations to become more independent of Washington militarily and geopolitically.

Blinken's visit, then, is being watched closely.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said Blinken and Le Drian discussed a range of topics, including Afghanistan and “the importance of holding the Taliban to its commitments.”

They also talked about collaborating in the Indo-Pacific and the Sahel region of sub-Sahara Africa, where France has been engaged in a years-long struggle to combat Islamist militant groups.

While in Paris, Blinken is also serving as the chair of a ministerial meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD meeting is focused on finding common ground on climate change and countering the influence of China and Russia.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union

Follow @cainburdeau
Categories / Government, International, Politics

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