France will send its ambassador back to Washington next week after French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Joe Biden agreed in a phone call Wednesday to meet next month over a submarine spat that sent relations between the longtime allies into a tailspin.
The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement. Macron and Biden will meet at the end of October in Europe, the statement said.
In an unprecedented move, France recalled its ambassador after the U.S., Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week. As part of the pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire U.S. nuclear-powered vessels instead.
The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior U.S. officials” after his return to the United States, the statement said.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” it said. Biden “conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The European Union unveiled last week a new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
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,” the statement said.
No decision has been made about the French ambassador to Australia, who was also recalled last week, the Elysee said, adding that no phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was scheduled.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described as a “crisis of trust” last week’s announcement of the Indo-Pacific deal, with Macron being formally informed only a few hours beforehand. The move had prompted fury in Paris, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back.”
Paris is now calling for “acts, not words only,” Macron’s office said.
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
Following the Macron-Biden call, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in New York with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as the administration worked to repair the damage done to broader EU-U.S. relations by the deal.
Blinken spoke of the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation on any number issues “quite literally around the world, to include of course Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific and Europe and beyond.”
Borrell, taking note of the phone call, said he hoped to be able to “build a stronger confidence among us following the conversation that had been taking place this morning between President Biden and President Macron. I’m sure we’ll be working together.”
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed French anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Washington, Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial towards China, for instance.”
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.