U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that his talks this week with top French officials were “very productive” and could lead to new collaboration between Washington and Paris to contain China’s military ventures in the Indo-Pacific region.
“It is vitally important to the U.S. that Europe in general, France in particular, be a strong and engaged partner in the Indo-Pacific,” Blinken said at a news conference in the French capital. He concluded his trip to Europe after talks with other foreign ministers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Blinken suggested the U.S. and France also could work together on joint concerns in the Sahel region of Africa and on U.S.-European security.
While in Paris, Blinken met with French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, talks aimed at continuing to patch up strained ties between the long-time allies following a dispute about a security partnership among the United States, Britain and Australia. Macron and U.S. President Joe Biden could announce joint projects when they talk later this month in Rome on the sidelines of a meeting of Group of 20 leaders.
The Biden administration last month announced the new security pact with Australia and Britain that angered Paris. Under the deal, Australia will get at least eight nuclear-powered submarines to be built domestically using American technology. The agreement came as Australia pulled out of an earlier deal with France for diesel-electric submarines.
“We could and we should have communicated better,” Blinken told France 2 television in an interview after his meeting with Macron. “We sometimes tend to take for granted a relationship as important and deep as the one that links France and the United States.”
At Wednesday’s news conference, Blinken said, “From my perspective, the conversations we had just in the last 24 hours were very positive, very productive and reflect a lot of important work that’s in progress.”
“There’s a lot of work that goes into this,” he added. “We’ve had teams meet in a variety of ways in the last days and that’s going to continue.”
The top U.S. diplomat said Biden told him to “take what is one of the most important relationships in the world and make it even better, make it even stronger.” Biden and Macron talked by phone after French anger at the submarine deal became apparent last month.
At the opening of the OECD meeting on Tuesday, Blinken highlighted several challenges the member countries face, including the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis, inequity and setting rules for a technologically advancing world.
“The principles at the heart of this organization and our democracies are being challenged by authoritarian governments that argue their model is better at meeting people’s basic needs. Some of these same governments are actively seeking to undermine the rules-based order that has been fundamental to security and prosperity of our countries for generations,” Blinken said, without naming specific nations.
Blinken said member nations must “prove that our approach can make a better life for people … in all countries and in a way that’s more equitable than in the past” while holding “ourselves accountable.”
Blinken’s weeklong trip also includes a stop at Stanford University in the western U.S. state of California, and meetings in Mexico City on Thursday and Friday for the U.S.-Mexico High Level Security Dialogue.
He will join Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland to discuss security issues, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said this week.
The high-level meeting comes amid a recent migration crisis as tens of thousands of Haitian migrants gathered at the U.S.-Mexico border last month. Thousands were allowed to enter the U.S. pending immigration hearings on asylum requests while more than 2,000 were deported back to the Caribbean country.
Ken Bredemeier, Wayne Lee and Chris Hannas contributed to this report.