Biden tells Macron US was ‘clumsy’ over Australian submarine deal

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes US President Joe Biden before their meeting at the French Embassy to the Vatican in Rome on October 29, 2021.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes US President Joe Biden before their meeting at the French Embassy to the Vatican in Rome on October 29, 2021. AFP - LUDOVIC MARIN

Meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday in Rome, President Joe Biden said America was “clumsy" in the manner in which it carried out a secret US-British submarine deal with Australia, an arrangement that cost France 56 billion euros and shook Europe’s faith in American loyalty.


Biden and Macron greeted each other with handshakes before their first face-to-face meeting since the deal was publicly announced in September, marking the latest American effort to try to smooth hurt French sensibilities.

Biden didn't formally apologise to Macron, but conceded the US should not have caught its oldest ally by surprise.

“I think, what happened was to use an English phrase, what we did was clumsy," Biden said, adding the submarine deal “was not done with a lot of grace”.

“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before."

The pair are in the Italian capital for the G20 summit but will hold talks at the French embassy in the city.

France described as a "stab in the back" the secretive way in which Australia, the US and Britain collaborated to ditch French vessels.

Macron was so furious he recalled ambassadors from both Washington and Canberra.

Old friend 'taken for granted'

Earlier this month in Paris, Macron held talks with Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State who conceded that the US had been cavalier.

"We sometimes tend to take for granted a relationship as important, as deep as the one between France and the United States," Blinken said during an interview with France 2.

In the prelude to Friday's meeting, Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser said the two leaders would cover issues ranging from counterterrorism in the Middle East to China and trade.

“We feel very good about the intensive engagement that we've had with France over the course of the past few weeks," he added.

Joint statement

Sullivan said he expected Biden and Macron to issue a joint statement outlining areas of mutual cooperation, including the Indo-Pacific as well as economic and technological cooperation.

Pierre Morcos, researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told RFI: "The Aukus crisis really jolted relations between the two countries. It forced the US to recognise that there was a disfunctional approach to its trans-Atlantic relationship.

"Unfortunately a full-scale diplomatic stand-off was necessary for these attitudes to be reconfigured."

After the Rome tête-à-tête, Biden will see his Italian counterpart Sergio Matarella as well as the prime minister Mario Draghi.

An audience has also been lined up with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

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