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By Kylie Atwood and Nicole Gaouette, CNN
Secretary of State Tony Blinken embarked on a delicate repair mission on Monday with France, the first senior US official to visit Paris since the announcement of a US-led security pact that overtook Paris, cost billions in lost arms sales and severed diplomatic ties with Washington.
The USA has been trying to resolve the break with France since the “AUKUS” security pact with Great Britain and Australia was announced in mid-September, which led to Paris recalling its ambassador, describing the Biden government’s actions as “brutal” – despite President Joe Biden’s promise to prioritize close consultation with allies – condemn his treatment of allies as no less callous than that of the Trump administration.
Officials in Washington and Paris say there will be no quick fix to the diplomatic divide.
The French have said that re-establishing the relationship will take “time and action”. Biden government officials have stated that they are committed to this approach.
“We recognize that this will take time and hard work and must be demonstrated not just in words but in deeds,” said Karen Donfried, the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, in a phone call on Friday marking the visit provided. But there is no such thing as a “silver bullet” for mending the crack, she said.
To soften the blow
France will lose about $ 65 billion from an existing agreement to supply Australia with conventional diesel-powered submarines due to the new deal Australia has made with the US and UK.
The new pact between the UK, Australia and the US sees collaboration on artificial intelligence, long-range assault capabilities and nuclear-powered submarines, all in response to China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. France, which has territories in the Pacific and has stepped up its military operations in the region against China, was not only not informed about the alliance, but is now struggling with the lost contract and the jobs it has lost.
“Can the USA cushion the blow financially? This is going to be difficult. Could the US help find another country to buy the French submarines? ”Said Heather Conley, director of the European program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
French officials have not publicly stated what the US should do to get the alliance back on track. Some say they wait to see what Blinken puts on the table.
“The ball is in the US court,” a senior French official said before Blink’s visit. “We want to hear from the US side what the plan is to restore the quality of transatlantic relations. Since January there has been a lot of rhetoric about friends and allies and on some points the approach is not much different from (Donald) Trump, so it will be: really care about how the EU and NATO and France deal with partners ? “
The reception by Blinkens in Paris is said to be a stark contrast to the warm welcome he received in France a few months ago. Blinken will meet on Tuesday with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who described the new partnership between Great Britain, Australia and the USA as a “stab in the back”.
Blinken and LeDrian have already met once about the consequences of the AUKUS deal and held talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.
The top US diplomat, officially chairing a meeting of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris this week, is the ideal envoy for the trip.
Blinken, who is fluent in French, has a personal bond with the French capital that could warm up the expected cool reception a bit. He spent much of his childhood in Paris and referred to the city as his “second home”. French officials who have known Blinken for decades say he is the right person to help mend the relationship.
Still, Blinken’s big job is to find out what the French want and what the Biden government can do. US officials have yet to specify what the US might offer or schedule delivery.
“Concrete measures must emerge from these discussions,” Donfried said of Blinken’s meeting, adding that it will take hard work to restore the relationship. “I do believe that it is these concrete deeds and actions that build trust again.”
Light up the fire
Blinken will talk about US support for France’s anti-terrorism efforts in the Sahel and deepening cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, Donfried told reporters. He is also expected to start planning a meeting between Biden and President Emmanuel Macron next month.
But the gap is fueled by a number of factors, including domestic politics and the shock of disappointed expectations.
In deliberate opposition to ex-President Donald Trump, Biden had made the reconstruction and strengthening of alliances, especially in Europe, a central pillar of his foreign policy. In France, many officials saw Biden’s appointment of two high-ranking Francophiles – Blinken and Climate Ambassador John Kerry – as a sign that Paris would enjoy special prestige in Washington.
However, French officials say they have no signs of the AUKUS announcement, even as high-level meetings between the US and France have taken place in recent months.
Now, according to Donfried, the French are of the opinion that trust is “disturbed” and the US must “make sure that there is trust”.
And with the French presidential election next year, domestic politics could also make any solution more difficult. CSIS’s Conley said the public response to Blinken’s bridge-building trip was an important indicator.
“How long the effects of this crisis will last cannot be predicted,” said Conley. “If the French government receives clear commitments on important issues and the public responds positively, bilateral tensions can ease. But if this issue continues to influence French public opinion, and the French presidential candidates continue to use ‘the great humiliation’ as a theme against Macron, then the problem will remain. “
“It will be important to see how public opinion reacts to Secretary of State Blinken’s visit, and if it is strong against the US we will know that the bilateral crisis will continue for a while,” said Conley.
Blinken will build on initial efforts to smooth out the relationship, which began quickly after the news of the AUKUS submarine deal broke out on September 15.
Speaking to Macron on September 22, Biden appeared to admit missteps in the US approach to the talks. A joint statement released after the call said Macron and Biden agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations between allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners.
France’s Ambassador to the United States, Philippe Etienne, returned to Washington for consultations after a dramatic recall to Paris and met with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Thursday and Blinken on Friday to discuss how to proceed.
On his trip to Paris, which will last until Wednesday, Blinken will be accompanied by Climate Ambassador Kerry, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and other US officials.
The CNN Wire
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