By Nike Ching
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Paris, his first trip to France following an enhanced trilateral security partnership known as AUKUS (Australia, U.K., and the U.S.) that heightened tensions between the transatlantic allies.
Experts said they expect Blinken, who has strong personal ties to France, to use the upcoming trip to try to improve U.S.-France relations.
The top U.S. diplomat will chair the Ministerial Council Meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that is scheduled to take place Oct. 5-6, and commemorate the organization’s 60th anniversary.
Blinken will have a bilateral meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris.France is set to hold the presidency of Council of the European Union from Jan. 1-June 30, 2022.
“Secretary Blinken will also meet with French counterparts to continue discussions on further strengthening the vital U.S.-France relationship on a range of issues including security in the Indo-Pacific region, the climate crisis, economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the transatlantic relationship, and working with our allies and partners to address global challenges and opportunities,” said the State Department in a statement Friday.
Tensions over AUKUS deal
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced Sept. 15 a new security pact with Australia and the U.K. Under the deal, Australia will get at least eight nuclear-powered submarines to be built domestically using American technology. The agreement came after Australia pulled out of an earlier deal with France for diesel-electric submarines, angering Paris.
France recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and to Australia within two days following the announcement. Le Drian declared there is a “crisis of trust” in the United States.
After a phone call between President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on Sept. 22 which sought to ease tensions over the submarine deal, both leaders decided to “open a process of in-depth consultations” to ensure “confidence.” Macron also decided that French Ambassador Philippe Etienne would return to Washington the following week.
On Thursday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Etienne at the White House to “continue advancing shared agenda,” in advance of Biden’s meeting with Macron in Europe at the end of October. Both are scheduled to attend the Group of 20 summit in Rome at that time.
“We need to make sure trust is there,” said Karen Donfried, the newly confirmed assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, in a phone briefing on Friday.
While the U.S.-France relationship remains an important one for both sides, James Goldgeier, who is a senior visiting fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said the Biden administration “seems to have been a bit taken aback by the angry French reaction” to the AUKUS deal.
“It’s good that the two presidents are looking for ways to move forward. There is no question that the Biden administration sees the Indo-Pacific as its main focus. U.S. policy toward regions like Europe are seen through that lens,” Goldgeier told VOA.
The State Department said in a statement that the U.S. delegation to OECD’s October ministerial also includes Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and the U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
OECD & China
The OECD gathering will discuss the climate crisis, promoting the transition to net-zero emissions, as well as market-economy principles while continuing its commitment on shared values such as democracy, rule of law, and human rights.
A senior State Department official said another focus during the upcoming OECD meeting is the Blue Dot Network, a mechanism to certify infrastructure projects that meet robust international quality standards.
The United States, Japan and Australia launched the Blue Dot Network in 2019. Named for the view of Earth from space as a mere “blue dot,” it encourages development by certifying public-private investments in global infrastructure that are market-driven, transparent, and environmentally sustainable.
“The administration is very interested in engaging like-minded partners and allies to talk about the behaviors of non-market economies, including China,” said Matt Murray, a senior official from the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, during a phone briefing on Friday.
Murray told VOA that China will participate in the upcoming OECD meeting as an observer.
“Separate from the ministerial council meeting, and more generally, the U.S. government has undertaken a comprehensive review of the U.S.-China trade relationship because the United States welcomes healthy, fair competition with our trading partners. And economic competition with the PRC should be fair,” added Murray.
Blinken heads to Mexico
Blinken’s weeklong trip also includes meetings in Mexico City from Oct. 7-8 for the U.S.-Mexico High Level Security Dialogue.
The top U.S. diplomat will join U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. 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.
The Biden administration confirmed on Sept. 24 that a makeshift camp where 15,000 Haitian migrants braved desperate conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border was now vacant.
In late September, Mexico also began flying Haitian migrants back to their homeland.