After Johnson Mocks French Outrage Over Submarines, Biden Reaches Out
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told France it’s time to get over its anger about being brushed aside as the U.S. and Britain cut a deal to supply Australia with nuclear submarines, but hours later President Joe Biden offered an olive branch.
“I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip about this and donnez-moi un break,” Johnson told reporters outside the Capitol building on Wednesday, following a meeting with Biden the previous evening.
The tone of a joint statement issued after Biden spoke with President Emmanuel Macron by phone later in the day was markedly softer, and a clear attempt to smooth things over.
The two leaders agreed “the situation would have benefited from open consultations” and planned to meet in Europe at the end of October, according to the statement.
Paris reacted with fury to news of three-way defense pact last week while dismissing the U.K. as a bit player, whose role as a “spare tire” didn’t merit a diplomatic slap. As part of the deal, Australia canceled a $66 billion deal to purchase diesel-powered submarines from France.
Macron decided that the French Ambassador to Washington who was recalled when the deal was announced will return next week, according to the joint statement.
Outside the Capitol building, Johnson appeared to leave the door open for France or other nations to join the agreement, which aims to increase western influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
“It’s not exclusive,” Johnson said. “It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial towards China for instance.”
But his comments were unlikely to go down well in Paris. French officials say they were given no warning of the deal and have taken the lack of communication as a personal slight that they say is unworthy of an ally.
In a nod to those concerns, the joint statement says Biden reaffirms “the strategic importance” of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific.
It adds that the U.S. recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense and commits to reinforcing support in West Africa’s Sahel region, where French and EU forces are battling Islamist extremists.
The joint statement suggested that the U.S. will take new steps to nurture its ties with France and other European allies.
Johnson suffered his own disappointment after Biden indicated there’s no prospect of a bilateral trade deal between the U.K. and the U.S. any time soon. Johnson had told British voters that a commercial agreement with the U.S. would be one of the great prizes after Brexit.
“The Biden administration is not doing free trade deals around the world right now but I’ve got absolutely every confidence that a great deal is there to be done,” he said. “And there are plenty of people in that building behind me who certainly want a deal.”
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