VP Harris heads to Paris to work on US-France relationship

French President Macron attends a military ceremony at the Invalides in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives for a military ceremony at the Invalides monument in Paris, Thursday, Nov.4, 2021 (Ian Langsdon, Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris is pitching in on the White House charm offensive aimed at French President Emmanuel Macron.

The vice president arrives in Paris on Tuesday for a four-day visit, the latest move in a concerted effort by the Biden administration to shore up the U.S. relationship with America’s oldest ally. Washington’s relations with Paris hit a historic low this year after a U.S.-British submarine deal with Australia scuttled a French deal with the Australians.

Harris will sit down with Macron on Wednesday at the Élysée Palace for talks that are expected to focus on ways the two nations can better coordinate efforts in the Indo-Pacific and other issues impacting the relationship.

The high-level meeting comes less than two weeks after President Joe Biden met Macron on the margins of the Group of 20 summit in Rome and acknowledged that his administration had handled the submarine deal in a “clumsy” way.

The U.S. and Britain’s agreement to provide Australia with submarine technology has been framed as opportunity for the U.S. to bolster a key Pacific ally’s naval capacity as the Biden administration has become increasingly concerned about China’s military aggressiveness in the region.

But France was livid, saying it was kept in the dark about the deal and its interests were ignored despite having territories in the Indo-Pacific with 2 million people and 7,000 troops.

The French also complained that the episode undercut Biden’s message that he would stabilize and strengthen the trans-Atlantic alliance after four years of President Donald Trump’s “America first” approach to foreign policy.

France even briefly withdrew its ambassador from the U.S. in protest, the first time it had done so in some 250 years of diplomatic relations between the nations.

“The alliance between the United States and France is America’s oldest, and among our strongest,” Harris said in statement about her trip. “I look forward to discussing with President Macron our work together on the most urgent challenges of our time — including the climate crisis, the global health crisis, and regional security concerns.”

Harris said she and Macron would also discuss new opportunities for collaboration in the area of space. On Tuesday, Harris is to tour the renowned Institut Pasteur. Harris’ mother, who was a scientist, collaborated with the institute’s scientists on breast cancer research in the 1980s.

Harris will deliver a speech on Thursday at the annual Paris Peace Forum and participate the following day in the Paris Conference on Libya. She will be joined by her husband, Douglas Emhoff, for the visit.

The vice president is looking to pick up where Biden left off in Rome in efforts to make clear that that he sees the relationship with France as critical to the U.S.

To that end, she and Emhoff will visit Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial just outside Paris. The 7.5-acre (3 hectare) cemetery contains the remains of 1,559 Americans who died in World War I and 23 unknown dead of World War II.

Harris will also participate in a ceremony to mark Armistice Day, the French commemoration of the end of World War I. Thursday is also Veterans Day in the United States.

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