US Secretary of State and French President hold talks to explore potential cooperation in Indo-Pacific region.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tours an exhibit on the Marshall Plan at the OECD's headquarters, in Paris, France on October 5, 2021.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tours an exhibit on the Marshall Plan at the OECD's headquarters, in Paris, France on October 5, 2021. (Reuters)

French President Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met on Tuesday to explore potential cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and other areas as the Biden administration moved to repair damage caused to relations by excluding France from a new security initiative.

A senior US State Department official said the two discussed possible joint projects that could be announced by Macron and President Joe Biden when they meet later this month at a date and venue that has yet to be decided. 

The official didn't elaborate on what those projects might be.

The official spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door talks between Macron and Blinken at the Elysee Palace that had not appeared on Blinken's official schedule for the day.

The roughly 40-minute, one-on-one meeting came amid French demands for the US to restore trust that was ruptured with last month's announcement of a three-way Indo-Pacific agreement between Australia, Britain and the US, known as AUKUS.

"Stab in the back"

US officials have acknowledged that the announcement was handled poorly and could have benefitted from coordination with France and other members of the European Union, all of which were excluded. And, while they have also signaled a desire to make amends, they have suggested France’s rage is an overreaction.

READ MORE: France says US torpedoed its submarine deal with Australia

France responded with fury to the announcement that also scuttled a multibillion-dollar submarine contract it had with Australia, and briefly recalled its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra in an unprecedented display of pique.

French officials called it a stab in the back by allies and expressed disappointment that it had happened after Biden had proclaimed “America is back” and pledged to restore and value trans-Atlantic relations that had soured during the Trump administration.

The French have said repeatedly it will take much time and work to overcome the rift and that the incident underscores the need for Europe to develop its own security and defense plans as well as adopting a European strategy to counter growing challenges from China.

READ MORE: EU rallies behind France as tensions rock Western alliance over subs deal

Blinken in Paris

Blinken is in the French capital for a two-day international economic conference that has been overshadowed by the AUKUS controversy that erupted on September 15 with the announcement of the project.

Ahead of his visit, his second to France as secretary of state but first since the rupture, Blinken met on Friday with French Ambassador Philippe Etienne on his return to Washington after having been recalled to Paris by Macron.

Blinken, a fluent French speaker who grew up and went to high school in Paris, has expressed disappointment that the France has reacted so harshly to AUKUS. 

He and others have suggested some degree of French anger is related to domestic French politics and the shifting dynamics within the EU, which will soon see Angela Merkel depart as the leader of Germany after 16 years in power.

READ MORE: Can France rely on allies for support against Washington?

Blinken's visit follows a September 22 phone call between Biden and Macron, who have agreed to try to calm matters.

The ostensible reason for Blinken’s trip to France, which had been planned well before the AUKUS ruckus, is to co-chair a ministerial meeting of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Tuesday and Wednesday about climate change and security.

Former Secretary of State and current US climate envoy John Kerry is also attending the OECD talks, which are taking place just weeks before the next UN-backed international conference on climate, in Glasgow, Scotland.

READ MORE: AUKUS pact: France needs to accept new reality if it wants to compete

Source: AP