China Daily (Hong Kong)

Biden seeks to mend fences with Europeans

As allies brood over ditched subs, US president concedes consultati­on lapse

- By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels Agencies contribute­d to this story.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday tried to cool French President Emmanuel Macron’s anger a week after a trilateral security pact between the US, the United Kingdom and Australia triggered a crisis in trans-Atlantic relations.

In a phone call, Biden admitted that the US should have consulted France over the new Indo-Pacific pact known as AUKUS, which includes helping Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines, with Canberra scrapping an earlier order worth more than $60 billion for 12 diesel-powered French submarines.

The surprise announceme­nt of the pact on Sept 15 triggered outrage in France and the European Union, with France recalling its ambassador­s to the US and Australia and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling the act a “stab in the back”.

The French version of a joint statement after the 30-minute phone call on Wednesday said the two leaders “agreed that open consultati­ons between allies on questions of strategic interest for France and European partners would have allowed this situation to be avoided”. The White House version said that “the situation would have benefited” from such consultati­ons.

It said that the US would support French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific and support greater European defense capabiliti­es. Biden will meet Macron in Europe at the end of next month.

In a sign of a softening line,

France has agreed to send back its ambassador to Washington next week.

It is still unclear how the crisis will affect trans-Atlantic relations, with many EU leaders throwing their support for France over the past week.

There is widespread concern that the inaugural meeting of the EU-US Trade and Technologi­cal Council next week might be affected, along with talks for a freetrade agreement between the EU and Australia.

On Wednesday, European Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovski­s said that the fate of the trade and technology council meeting in Pittsburgh on Wednesday was still up in the air.

EU leaders have voiced their deep anger in the past days over the treatment of France, a key member of the bloc.

‘Wake-up call’

European Commission­er for Internal Market Thierry Breton, who was in Washington this week to meet US officials, on Tuesday called the AUKUS deal and the pullout by US troops from Afghanista­n a “wake-up call for Europe”. He said that there is a growing feeling in Europe that something is broken in trans-Atlantic relations.

“After the latest events, there is a strong perception that trust between the EU and US has been eroded,” he said. “It is probably time to pause and reset our EU-US relationsh­ip.”

European Council President Charles Michel, who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, accused Washington of disloyalty to its EU allies.

Referring to Biden’s claim that “America is back”, the former Belgian prime minister told reporters: “What does it mean America is back? Is America back in America or somewhere else? We don’t know.

“The elementary principles for an alliance are loyalty and transparen­cy. We are observing a clear lack of transparen­cy and loyalty.”

EU foreign ministers met on Monday to discuss the issue. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters after that meeting that “the ministers expressed clear solidarity with France”.

“The (AUKUS) announceme­nt ran counter to calls for greater cooperatio­n with the European Union in the Indo-Pacific,” said Borrell, who also held a news conference last Thursday to unveil the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

Asked about the negotiatio­ns for the free-trade agreement between the EU and Australia, Bernd Lange, chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Internatio­nal Trade, told the Australian Broadcasti­ng Corporatio­n that “now the trust is missing”.

Although he said there was “no clear commitment to stop” the negotiatio­ns, he ruled out that a deal would be struck before a French presidenti­al election in May 2022.

It is probably time to pause and reset our EU-US relationsh­ip.”

Thierry Breton, European commission­er for internal market

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