ROME – It was a presidential tête-à-tête after a transatlantic tiff.
President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron sat down in Rome on Friday for their first one-on-one meeting after an extraordinary diplomatic row in September between the United States and its oldest ally.
Both leaders seemed ready to put the dispute behind them.
A contrite Biden called France “an extremely, extremely valued partner” and admitted the U.S. had been “clumsy” in the way it handled the announcement of a submarine deal with Australia. The French were furious when Australia subsequently canceled a contract to buy submarines from them.
“It was not done with a lot of grace,” Biden conceded, adding that he thought France had been informed of the deal.
Macron said he was satisfied that relations between the two countries had been repaired.
“What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years,” he said.
Before they got down to business, Biden and Macron greeted each other with smiles and handshakes on the steps of Villa Bonaparte, the French embassy to the Holy See. Both men are in Rome for the Group of 20 summit of world leaders, which opens on Saturday.
Macron was furious when the U.S. announced in September it was entering into a defense pact with Australia and the United Kingdom. The agreement, which is meant to counter growing Chinese military aggression in the Indo-Pacific, includes a U.S. commitment to help Australia develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Le problème? France had its own contract to provide 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines to Australia. But the Aussies canceled that deal after entering into the defense partnership with the United States and Britain.
The canceled submarine contract is expected to cost the French hundreds of jobs and created a a political headache for Macron heading into next year’s elections when he will ask voters to give him a second term.
Macron retaliated by recalling France’s ambassador to the U.S. back to Paris. He allowed the ambassador to return to Washington a couple of weeks later after a phone conversation with Biden and a promise that the two leaders would meet in person in Rome.
Despite the French protestations of outrage, analysts said there is unlikely to be any long-term fallout over the contretemps.
“There’s nothing the French can do,” said Jeremy Shapiro, a Berlin-based foreign policy expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“They don’t really have strong support from the European partners to do anything about it,” he said.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.