President Biden conceded Friday that his administration’s handling of a new security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom was “clumsy,” the latest effort to mend fences with French officials irked at being cut out of the deal.
“It was not done with a lot of grace,” Biden said at the beginning of his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. They met here ahead of the G20 forum for world leaders, which will take place over the next two days.
The episode has been an awkward and counterproductive one for Biden, who has sought to reinforce international alliances after the bull-in-the-china-shop years of President Trump, only to have angered America’s oldest ally.
Macron appeared to be willing to move on, at least when the cameras were rolling.
“What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years,” the French president said, adding that what was “important is to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future.”
French leaders were upset because the country lost a lucrative contract to sell submarines to Australia, which decided to work with the U.S. on a new, nuclear-powered fleet instead.
They also felt disrespected because the partnership among the U.S., U.K. and Australia is geared toward security in the Indo-Pacific, a region where France has already invested considerable resources.
“It’s silly to exclude a country that has been making the most efforts,” said Philippe Le Corre, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who previously worked for the French Ministry of Defense.
In addition, French diplomats said they were caught by surprise when the partnership, known as AUKUS, was announced last month.
Biden suggested that he believed France had been in the loop.
“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before,” he said during his meeting with Macron.
The two leaders met privately for about 30 minutes before sitting down with an extended group of officials, including top diplomats and national security advisors.