Paris: After a 'friendly phone call' on Wednesday to defuse a deep row over submarine sales to Australia, French President Emmanuel Macron and his US counterpart Joe Biden have agreed to meet in October in Europe over the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) security partnership.
The AUKUS deal, which was described as a "stab in the back" by France and sparked outcry across Europe, has raised concerns over nuclear proliferation from the international community as under the deal Australia has scrapped a contract to buy submarines from France in favour of US-made nuclear vessels, reports Xinhua news agency. Paris also pulled its ambassador from Australia and the US.
The call, which the White House said lasted about 30 minutes, was the first between Biden and Macron since France recalled its ambassador over the surprise deal. During a phone call on Wednesday, the two Presidents "agreed that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners", according to a joint statement.
In a joint statement after the call, the two leaders vowed to launch "in-depth consultations... for ensuring confidence" and to meet in Europe at the end of October. The statement also said Macron would order France's ambassador back to Washington next week.
Since the AUKUS pact was unveiled on September 15, France, outraged by the abrupt move without notice, has accused Australia and the US of "lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt".
Macron and Biden "have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives", said the statement
They will meet in Europe at the end of October "in order to reach shared understandings and maintain momentum in this process", it added.
Meanwhile, Biden reaffirmed "the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region" and said that the US "recognises the importance of a stronger and more capable European defence that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO", according to the joint statement.
In what amounted to an acknowledgement of French anger, the English-language version of the statement issued by the White House said that the management of the dueling submarine deals "would have benefited from open consultations among allies."
Dismayed by the "unacceptable" act by the US, European leaders in recent days have voiced concerns about the AUKUS agreement and demanded an explanation from Biden on why he misled France and other European partners in forging the new strategic agreement in the Indo-Pacific region.
Ties with Australia
There is still no indication of France making up with Australia, which says its decision to opt for far more capable nuclear-powered submarines is part of a long-term strategy to contain China's rising presence in the Indo-Pacific.
An Elysee official, who asked not to be named, said no decision has been made on the French ambassador's return to Canberra while no call has been scheduled with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
France's Naval Group said it will send a detailed invoice in the coming weeks to Australia for cancelling the contract originally worth Aus$50 billion ($36.5 billion, 31 billion euros).
As well as a huge commercial setback, the loss of the deal was also a blow to France's security strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, where it has a presence through overseas territories.