Blinken Tells Macron US Supports European Defence Initiatives in First Talks Since Submarine Crisis
Last month, Washington, London and Canberra announced the creation of a new security pact known as 'AUKUS', with the US and the UK promising Australia American and British nuclear submarine reactor technology in exchange for closer security cooperation. The deal ended up torpedoing a French-Australian submarine contract worth up to $66 billion.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has assured President Emmanuel Macron of France that Washington supports European security initiatives, with Macron in turn assuring the US top diplomat that regional security pacts should not come at the expense of the North Atlantic Alliance, a US official has told reporters.
Macron and Blinken held a 40-minute closed-door meeting on Tuesday, with the talks the first face-to-face tĂȘte-Ă -tĂȘte of their kind following last month's spike in tensions over the AUKUS deal, which robbed Paris of a submarine contract with Australia worth the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars.
A senior US State Department official told reporters after the meeting that Washington and Paris were in agreement that there was "an opportunity now to deepen and strengthen coordination" between the two allies, but that "a lot of hard work remains to be done" regarding "concrete decisions" and projects which will be submitted to Macron and President Joe Biden at their upcoming meeting later this month.
The official did not specify the nature of these joint projects, and the time and place of the talks has yet to be announced.
A US official speaking to Reuters stressed that Macron assured Blinken that European-level security initiatives 'should not be in competition' with the NATO alliance.
Elysee Palace released a statement on the talks, saying they would "contribute to restoring confidence" in relations between the two countries. The Elysee further indicated that Paris and Washington are "continuing their coordination on issues of common interest, whether it be EU-NATO cooperation, the Sahel, or the Indo-Pacific area."
Blinken's visit to Paris has been characterised as an effort to smooth over tensions and discuss "confidence-building measures." Biden national security advisor Jake Sullivan reportedly did some "confidence-building" of his own with the French Ambassador to the US last week following the diplomat's return to Washington after being recalled last month.
Sub Snub Saps Confidence
Despite assurances by the US side that transatlantic relations were getting back to normal, French officials and media have continued to express their frustration with Washington, London and Canberra over the secret nature of the AUKUS negotiations, and the loss of the sub deal with Australia.
Last week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers that "someone lied" regarding Australia's plans to ditch the sub contract immediately after joining AUKUS while continuing to assure Paris to the last moment that the agreement was still in place. "Something doesn't add up and we don't know what," he said.
At the same time, Le Drian insisted that a resumption in dialogue between Paris and Washington was not an indication that the "crisis" in relations had ended. "It will continue, and in order to get out of it, serious actions will be needed, not words," he said. The diplomat also warned that France would be reviewing its relations with the UK, and that London should be aware "that it has violated its obligations, including under the agreement on trade and cooperation."
Last week, Macron announced that Paris would be selling Rafale jets and three new frigates to Greece in a moved hailed as "an audacious first step towards European strategic autonomy," with the deal widely seen by observers as an explicit response to the perceived AUKUS snub.
High-profile French opposition politicians have urged Paris to go further and to consider withdrawing from NATO altogether over the perceived "stab in the back" over the sub deal.
Announced in mid-September, the AUKUS agreement promises Australia American and British assistance with nuclear reactor technology for a new class of nuclear submarines for the Australian Navy in exchange for potential new basing rights and other forms of cooperation in areas including defence, AI, cybersecurity and quantum technologies. The subs will be built in Australian shipyards, and the contract for their construction will replace the $66 billion agreement Paris signed with Canberra for 12 conventional attack subs which would have been built in France.
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