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Macron and Harris see 'new era' of US-French relations

November 10, 2021

US relations with France plummeted this year after a US-UK defense deal with Australia effectively torpedoed a French submarine contract. Vice President Kamala Harris hopes to do some damage control in Paris.

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron wave at reporters at the Elysee Palace in Paris
US Vice President Kamala Harris hopes to smooth over a diplomatic crisis that has angered French President Emmanuel Macron in recent weeksImage: Christoph Ena/AP/picture alliance

US Vice President Kamala Harris met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Wednesday to discuss defense cooperation and heal diplomatic rifts.

It's the latest attempt by Washington to smooth things over with France after enraging the long-standing ally after a deal that thwarted a French submarine contract.

Macron: 'Beginning of new era' in relations

Following discussions in the Elysee Palace in Paris, Macron said he stressed that closer cooperation was essential moving forward.

"We do share the view that we are the beginning of a new era. Our cooperation is absolutely critical for this era," Macron told the US vice president.

Harris, in turn, responded that the US and France "always found great success because of shared values and shared priorities."

Why are relations strained?

Franco-American relations have been severely tested since September, following the surprise announcement of a new defense pact between the US, UK and Australia. 

The deal, dubbed AUKUS, ended up sinking a multibillion-dollar contract to sell French submarines to Australia.

In early October, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was dispatched to Paris to do damage control.

Later that month, President Joe Biden also made an effort to patch things up with France, telling Macron that Washington had been "clumsy" in its handling of the issue.

Emmanuel Macron and Kamala Harris, smiling
Macron greets Harris with a smile, just weeks after French officials described the US-UK defense deal with Australia as "a stab it in the back"Image: Christoph Ena/AP/picture alliance

Harris: Trying not to 'make the same mistake twice'

The talks with Macron are part of Harris' four-day trip to France. The vice president spent the first day of her trip touring the Pasteur Institute in Paris and meeting with US and French scientists.

Harris noted the personal significance of the visit to the institute, given that her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, conducted breast cancer research there in the 1980s.

The vice president also compared politics and bilateral relations to the process of scientific research and cooking.

"There will be glitches and there will be mistakes," she said. "If you don't make the same mistake twice ... that's a good process, and we should encourage it."

Maas welcomes rapprochement between France, US

What else was on the agenda?

Defense cooperation — especially in the Indo-Pacific — was also high on the list during Harris' talks with Macron. France has been pushing for the European Union to increase naval deployments in the region to boost the 27-member bloc's global impact.

They were also set to discuss France's push to increase Europe's own defense capabilities — and defense independence — as well as military operations in the Sahel.

Space cooperation and global health issues were also on the agenda.

What else does Harris have booked in France?

As part of her visit to France, Harris is set to give a speech in front of other world leaders at the Paris Peace Forum on Thursday.

On Friday, she is scheduled to attend an international conference on Libya — as Macron seeks to ensure that plans to hold elections by the end of the year in the conflict-torn country remain on track.

rs/msh (AFP, AP)