US Vice President Kamala Harris touched down in Paris on Tuesday on a mission to further mend relations with France after a crisis sparked by a cancelled submarines contract.
During her four-day visit — her third overseas trip in office — Harris will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and attend a peace forum with other world leaders.
She will also participate in a conference on Libya and join commemorations for the anniversary of the end of World War I.
Her trip comes after a huge French-American row that erupted in September when Australia walked out of a multibillion-dollar submarines deal with Paris in favour of an alternative one with the US.
“It is good to be in France and I am looking forward to many, many days of productive discussions reinforcing the strength of our relationship,” Harris said as she arrived for the visit.
The visit was announced after the subs row, and comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken was dispatched in early October in a first attempt to fix the crisis.
President Joe Biden also sought to make amends over the dispute at a meeting with Macron last month, telling the French leader that that his government had been “clumsy” in the way it secured the submarines deal with Australia.
The deal, knowns as AUKUS, is part of a new strategic alliance between the US, Australia and Britain.
– ‘Really critical’ –
It was the clearest sign of contrition from the US since the start of the row that saw France recall its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.
Paris was furious after the scrapping of the $60 billion pact struck by a French defence contractor to sell diesel-powered submarines to Australia.
Harris, who will meet Macron on Wednesday, is expected to confirm Biden’s overtures, including with discussions about possible US support for France’s military mission against jihadists in the Sahel, and for plans to beef up European defence capabilities.
“The relationship between the United States and France — and also the transatlantic relationship between the US and Europe — is really critical for us,” a senior White House official said ahead of the trip.
“This is something that candidate Biden stressed throughout the campaign.”
Another official said Harris’s speech at Thursday’s Paris Peace Forum, which focuses this year on Covid recovery, would address “big, converging global crises”.
She will also attend a special session at the Forum dedicated to the regulatory framework for internet companies, French officials added.
On Thursday’s World War I armistice day, Harris is to visit the Suresnes American Cemetery on the capital’s outskirts, they said.
Before returning to Washington, Harris will take part Friday in the Paris Conference on Libya, a diplomatic push to promote peaceful elections that could stem the numbers of migrants fleeing the conflict-hit country for Europe.
“We want to build a stable and prosperous Libya free from foreign interference and capable of combating terrorism within its borders,” the official said.
The vice president has come under fire over her performance as the administration’s point person on America’s own migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border, which critics say has worsened since Biden came into office.