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Politics

France will return envoy to U.S. next week after Biden-Macron call

Presidents to meet in Europe next month in hopes of easing tensions over AUKUS deal

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron from the Oval Office of the White House on Sept. 22.

NEW YORK -- France will send its ambassador back to the U.S. next week, and French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden in Europe next month, the two leaders agreed in a phone call Wednesday, as the longtime allies try to contain the fallout from their biggest diplomatic row in recent memory.

The presidents spoke at Biden's request to discuss last week's announcement that Australia was bailing out of a deal with France to replace nuclear-powered submarines in order to partner with the U.K. and the U.S. instead.

"The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners," a joint statement issued by the White House and the Elysee Palace said. "President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard."

The French felt blindsided by the news that the U.S., U.K. and Australia had formed a new defense grouping named AUKUS that will deepen cooperation on a range of defense capabilities for the 21st century, including artificial intelligence, cyber, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities.

As part of an effort to bolster defenses against rising Chinese military capabilities, Washington and London agreed to share classified technology regarding submarine nuclear propulsion, that would enable submarines to be quieter and faster and stay submerged longer than traditional diesel-powered submarines.

France was livid that Australia was tearing up a submarine deal it had signed with Paris in 2019. After years of negotiations, Canberra picked French shipbuilder Naval Group to deliver a fleet of 12 new submarines, then estimated to be worth AU$50 billion ($36.2 billion at current rates), in one of the world's most lucrative defense deals.

The French had beat out competing bids from Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, as well as Germany's Thyssenkrupp AG.

Slamming the AUKUS announcement as unilateral and unpredictable, France recalled its U.S. ambassador to Paris and canceled a reception in Washington that would have celebrated the 240th anniversary of a Revolutionary War battle.

The U.S. and Australian moves constitute "unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe," said Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's minister for Europe and foreign affairs, in a statement announcing the ambassador's recall.

Australia's new deal, which could include submarine patrols through territories China claims as its own in the South China Sea, was a major step for both the American presence in the Pacific and Canberra's continued distancing from Beijing.

AUKUS is "about connecting America's existing allies and partners in new ways and amplifying our ability to collaborate, recognizing there is no regional divide separating the interests of our Atlantic and Pacific partners," Biden said at last week's announcement.

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