Blinken hoping to mend ties in Paris
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to face delicate talks in Paris yesterday to patch up ties with France, which is still angry over the cancellation of a submarine contract.
President Emmanuel Macron was furious last month when Australia scrapped a multibillion-dollar deal for French submarines, saying it would pursue US nuclear versions instead.
Mr Macron’s government called secret talks leading up to the cancellation “a stab in the back” and the French president recalled his ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.
US President Joe Biden, possibly taken aback by the extent of Mr Macron’s anger, has since tried to make amends, with Karen Donfried, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, admitting last week that “the September 15 announcement would have benefited from better and more open consultation among allies”.
Mr Blinken’s scheduled meeting with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian yesterday was likely lacking the usual warmth between the two allied governments.
Anne-Claire Legendre, his ministry spokeswoman, said the meeting was a chance to “identify stages that may allow a return of confidence between our two countries”.
In a further sign that French anger is still simmering, no official meeting was scheduled between Mr Macron and Mr Blinken. Instead, the US top diplomat was scheduled to meet the French leader’s diplomatic advisor Emmanuel Bonne.
This omission stands in stark contrast to the French president’s availability for Donald Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo in November last year when he stopped off in Paris to say goodbye.
Mr Blinken’s trip to Paris had been scheduled before the submarines row erupted, and was to focus on a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a club of mostly rich countries. But the fallout from the defence crisis is now likely to dominate his two-day stay.
A fluent French speaker who spent part of his childhood in Paris, Mr Blinken would need all his knowledge of France and diplomatic acumen to reassure his hosts over the durability of the partnership with Washington’s oldest ally.
Ms Donfried said the US recognised that repairing ties “will take time” and “will need to be demonstrated not only in words but also in deeds”.