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Top US diplomat to visit Paris after Aukus submarine dust-up

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Top US diplomat Antony Blinken will visit Paris next week as part of Washington’s efforts to patch up relations with France after it was excluded from a new strategic pact and lost a submarine deal with Australia.

The Biden administration is trying to defuse France’s wrath after the US, UK and Australia — known as Aukus — last month announced a new deal for nuclear submarines, prompting President Emmanuel Macron to recall his country’s ambassadors to Washington and Canberra last month.

Karen Donfried, the US state department’s newly appointed assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, said next week’s meetings in Paris were “part of our commitment toward a process of in-depth consultation going forward”.

“We recognise this will take time, and will take hard work, and it will need to be demonstrated, not only in words, but also we are all committed to working closely with our French counterparts at every level, on this important effort,” she told reporters ahead of the visit.

“I don’t think there’s a silver bullet, in terms of how we are working to deepen our relationship with the French going forward,” she said, adding there was a “need for better and more open consultations among allies”.

French officials insist they were outraged not only by the loss of the deal to provide submarines to Australia, but by the way France was left in the dark on discussions about the new pact. The deal damaged trust among Nato allies at a time when the US is seeking to stitch together a network of alliances to help counter China.

Senior US officials including Blinken failed to respond sufficiently quickly to requests from senior French officials to talk ahead of the deal’s announcement on September 15, according to officials briefed on the diplomatic efforts.

Since the diplomatic fallout, US President Joe Biden has led efforts to appease France’s fury. He spoke directly to Macron a week after the September 15 announcement, while Blinken also met his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

France’s ambassador to the US, Philippe Etienne, this week returned to his post in Washington, and met US national security adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House on Thursday to “to begin a process of in-depth consultations on a range of strategic matters”, according to a National Security Council spokesperson.

Biden and Macron are also due to meet in person at the end of October in Europe.

Blinken, who will lead an extensive US delegation to Paris including representatives on climate, trade, economics and energy, will also discuss how the US “will work with friends to revitalise and raise the level of ambition of the US-EU relationship”, said Donfried.

Blinken is expected to discuss US commitments to the French relationship spanning the Indo-Pacific region, counter-terrorism in the Sahel, the climate crisis, economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and other ways to work with US allies and partners “to address global challenges and opportunities”.

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