Blinken, Macron Explore Making Amends in Meeting After France, U.S. Submarine Spat

After conflict erupted last month with the September 15 announcement of a three-way agreement between Australia, Britain and the U.S. known as AUKUS, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Paris on Tuesday to discuss ways to repair the rift, the Associated Press reported.

The AUKUS deal excluded France, which responded angrily to the announcement that canceled a multibillion-dollar submarine contract it had with Australia and recalled their ambassadors from the U.S. and Australia.

U.S. officials acknowledge that the AUKUS deal could've benefited from coordination with France and other EU members, and has made motions to regain France's trust.

Prior to the meeting, the French ambassador returned, and the meeting today, while private, was a step forward in re-establishing relations. A State Department official said Macron and Blinken agreed to use it as an opportunity to "deepen and strengthen coordination" and called the meeting "very productive."

The official said Macron and Blinked discussed possible joint projects between France and the U.S. that could be announced when Macron and President Joe Biden meet later this month in Europe. Macron and Biden agreed to try to repair the damage in a September 22 phone call.

For more reporting by the Associated Press, see below.

Macron and Bliken meet to repair relations
French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Secretary of State Antony met in Paris on Tuesday and used the AUKUS spat as an opportunity to “deepen and strengthen coordination." Above, Blinken (right) meets with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

The official didn't elaborate on what those projects might be but said they would likely involve the Indo-Pacific and Western efforts to blunt China's growing there and elsewhere, NATO and other trans-Atlantic objectives involving the European Union, and counterterrorism cooperation in Africa's Sahel region.

A French official, speaking under customary anonymity, said the "at length, face-to-face meeting" came immediately after Blinken had seen Macron's national security adviser, Emmanuel Bonne. Bonne, the official said, saw Blinken "in order to study the ways of reengaging the relationship following the recall of the French ambassador, and to help restore confidence between France and the United States."

French officials called it "a stab in the back" by allies and expressed disappointment that it had happened after Biden had proclaimed "America is back" and pledged to restore and value trans-Atlantic relations that had soured during the Trump administration.

The French have said repeatedly it will take much time and work to overcome the rift and that the incident underscores the need for Europe to develop its own security and defense plans as well as adopting a European strategy to counter growing challenges from China.

Blinken is in the French capital for a two-day international economic conference that has been overshadowed by the AUKUS controversy that erupted with the announcement of the project. Blinken's first meeting in Paris was with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whom he counts as a personal friend.

Ahead of his visit, his second to France as secretary of state but first since the rupture, Blinken met Friday with French Ambassador Philippe Etienne on his return to Washington after having been recalled to Paris by Macron.

Blinken, a fluent French speaker who grew up and went to high school in Paris, has expressed disappointment that the France has reacted so harshly to AUKUS. He and others have suggested some degree of French anger is related to domestic French politics and the shifting dynamics within the EU, which will soon see Angela Merkel depart as the leader of Germany after 16 years in power.

The ostensible reason for Blinken's trip to France, which had been planned well before the AUKUS ruckus, is to co-chair a ministerial meeting of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Tuesday and Wednesday about climate change and security.

Former Secretary of State and current U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is also attending the OECD talks, which are taking place just weeks before the next U.N.-backed international conference on climate, in Glasgow, Scotland.