Biden: We were clumsy over France submarine row

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US President Joe Biden meets with French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the G20 summit in Rome, Italy October 29, 2021Image source, Reuters

US President Joe Biden has told France's Emmanuel Macron that the US was "clumsy" over a security pact signed between the UK, US, and Australia that lost France billions.

It was the first meeting between the two leaders since the Aukus pact - which will let Australia build nuclear-powered submarines - was agreed.

Aukus caused a row with France, which lost a $37bn deal with Australia.

Mr Macron said it was important to "look to the future".

The meeting between the two presidents took place at France's Vatican embassy in Rome, Villa Bonaparte.

It was part of a series of meetings between the US president and world leaders ahead of the G20 summit of major economies this weekend and next week's UN climate summit, COP26, in Scotland.

"What we did was clumsy," Mr Biden said. "I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through, honest to God."

The Aukus pact, which will also cover AI and other technologies, is one of Australia's biggest defence partnerships in decades, and is seen as an effort to counter China.

It scuppered a deal signed by Australia in 2016 for France to build 12 conventional submarines.

At the time, France's foreign minister called the security pact "a stab in the back", and France temporarily recalled its US and Australian ambassadors.

Speaking after meeting Mr Biden on Friday, Mr Macron told reporters: "Trust is like love, declarations are good, but proof is better." The two leaders also spoke about climate change, counter-terrorism in West Africa and European defence.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Brigitte Macron (left) and Jill Biden (right) met separately

Diplomatic drive

Mr Biden's first meeting of the day was at the Vatican, where he praised Pope Francis for his leadership on climate change.

During the 90-minute meeting, Mr Biden thanked the pontiff for his advocacy for the world's poor and those suffering from hunger and persecution. He also praised the Pope's leadership on the climate crisis and the pandemic.

Mr Biden gifted Pope Francis a special coin and called him "the most significant warrior for peace I've ever met."

On the back of the coin was the insignia of the unit of the Delaware Army National Guard, the unit in which the President's late son, Beau Biden served.

Image source, European Pressphoto Agency
Image caption,
Pope Francis met US President Joe Biden at the Vatican

He joked that if the pontiff did not have the coin with him at their next meeting, he would have to "buy the drinks".

Pope Francis gave Mr Biden a ceramic tile and his recent writings on Catholic teaching.

After his meeting with the pontiff, Mr Biden met Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Earlier, in a message recorded for the BBC, the Pope urged world leaders to agree a meaningful deal at COP26 offering "concrete hope" to future generations.

COP26 climate summit - The basics

  • Climate change is one of the world's most pressing problems. Governments must promise more ambitious cuts in warming gases if we are to prevent greater global temperature rises.
  • The summit in Glasgow is where change could happen. You need to watch for the promises made by the world's biggest polluters, like the US and China, and whether poorer countries are getting the support they need.
  • All our lives will change. Decisions made here could impact our jobs, how we heat our homes, what we eat and how we travel.