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Aukus pact: France and US seek to mend rift

FRANCE and the US have made efforts to end a row which started last week with the announcement of the Aukus defence pact between the US, UK and Australia.

The pact cost France a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) to build submarines for Australia.

Paris said it found out only hours before the public announcement.

The American and French presidents have now issued a joint statement saying the situation would have benefited from open consultations between allies.

Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone for half an hour on Wednesday. They will also meet in Europe at the end of next month.

Announced last week, Aukus is widely seen as an effort to counter China’s influence in the contested South China Sea.

Analysts have described it as probably the most significant security arrangement between the three nations since World War Two.

But French anger over the pact had been palpable – the French foreign minister called it a “stab in the back”.

In a rare step among allies, Mr Macron had ordered the recall of the French ambassadors to Washington and Canberra.

However, the ambassador to Washington will now return to his post. There was no word on whether the ambassador to Canberra would do the same.

President Biden reaffirmed the importance of French and European engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.

And the statement underlined US recognition of the importance of stronger European defence which France has been spearheading for years – as a complement to the trans-Atlantic Nato alliance.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, are expected to hold a bilateral meeting on Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, according to a US official.

US and France agree to move on

Analysis by Nomia Iqbal, Washington correspondent

This was a classic “non-apology apology” by the Americans: an apology for the process (the lack of consultation), but not for the policy itself (Aukus). But we did get a picture of President Biden smiling whilst on the phone with President Macron, in an attempt to show all is well.

As far as the readout goes, they can often be rather bland, but this had lots of meaning.

Firstly, it was a joint statement, when usually you get one from each side, so both leaders were trying to show a united front after their “friendly 30-minute call”. It made clear at the start that President Biden initiated the call – perhaps this was something France wanted to make sure was known.

Then there is this line: “The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations” – again, something France wanted in there?

But America had its say too, Biden did not alter his ongoing underlying message that European countries needs to contribute more to the continent’s own defence.

It then ended with a pointed reminder of the US giving extra counter-terrorism help in the Sahel, where the French are hugely invested.

In short, it was a statement that was clearly very well crafted for both sides to get their points across and move on. But a smiling phone call is one thing. What about when the two presidents meet in person next month in Europe?

It is worth mentioning that President Macron is facing re-election next year. His hanging tough with President Biden was important domestically but equally he needed to find an exit ramp. Today’s call delivers it.

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