Harris tasked with next phase of cleaning up Biden administration’s French missteps

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Arriving in Paris on Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris begins a five-day effort to revitalize Franco-American relations less than two months after America’s oldest allies were blinded by Biden’s decision to help Australia develop nuclear submarines – the sinking of France its own submarine contract with Australia in the process. The visit will also be Harris’ first to Europe in her new role, a key diplomatic test for the vice president and an opportunity to polish her foreign policy credentials after a difficult first trip abroad earlier this year.

Harris’ trip to Paris follows Biden’s meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the G-20 conference in Rome, in which Biden acknowledged the “clumsy” handling of the sub-case. sailors. But while French officials have been encouraged by US rhetoric in recent weeks – including on Macron’s priority of strengthening European defenses – French officials say they are still looking for concrete US actions to make amends.

“We are past the free fall phase and we are in the phase where we both agreed to rebuild, but we are still not quite sure what that looks like,” said Barry Pavel, director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy of the Atlantic Council. and Security who was the senior director of defense policy at the National Security Council. “The president has already taken the first step… but it is the second step.”

Almost every aspect of Harris’ visit is designed to show the enduring nature of the US-French alliance and the Biden administration’s commitment to making amends. A visit to the Suresnes American Cemetery and Armistice Day commemoration will highlight the sacrifices of American and French troops during the two world wars. Harris’s appearance at the Paris Peace Forum – an oft-overlooked world summit launched by Macron in 2018 – will make her the highest-ranking U.S. official to attend and appears to be a gesture of goodwill towards the French president. And at five days, Harris’ trip length also signals a serious goal.

“For Kamala Harris, it’s the end of the crisis,” said Gérard Araud, former French ambassador to Washington. “It is to conclude the reconciliation with this gesture of appreciation.”

Senior administration officials previewing the trip said Harris would seek to strengthen the Franco-American partnership in “concrete ways,” but it is not clear how.

When Biden visited Poland and the Czech Republic in the fall of 2009 to address concerns among those allies about abandoned plans for a new missile defense system based in their countries, the then vice president arrived. with a concrete means of appeasing the allies of the United States. : a reduced missile defense system, to which the two countries subscribed when he returned to Washington.

An equally clear result will be more difficult for Harris to achieve.

While Biden has asserted “the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense” – a central priority for Macron – in recent joint statements, there is no indication that concrete actions to match this rhetoric are imminent.

Still, the visit presents a key test and opportunity for Harris on the world stage. Beyond a bilateral meeting with Macron at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday, the vice-president will also meet other key European officials at a conference on Libya on Friday in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

But Harris’ trip will also be closely watched by his supporters and detractors, after his difficult handling of an interview on his first overseas trip to Mexico and Guatemala City in June overshadowed that trip.

The trip left White House officials baffled as Harris struggled to answer a question she should have anticipated about why she hadn’t yet visited the southern border of the United States.

Harris then traveled to Singapore and Vietnam in August following the random U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, where she faced questions about the withdrawal and sought to solidify U.S. engagement. to strengthen its influence in Asia.


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