President Joe Biden admitted Friday (Oct 29) to "clumsy" dealings with France following a bitter row over a submarine deal, at the start of a European trip designed to show off US leadership - and mend some fences.
The president deployed a charm offensive with French President Emmanuel Macron in their first meeting since Paris erupted last month over news of a new US-UK-Australia submarine deal that left its own multibillion deal with Canberra in tatters.
"What we did was clumsy, it was not done with a lot of grace," Biden told Macron in Rome, where both are gathered for this weekend's leaders summit, adding that "we have no better ally than France".
It was the clearest sign of contrition from the US since the start of a diplomatic row that saw France recall its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.
And it marked a sharp contrast to the past four years of Donald Trump's bruising diplomacy, setting a tone for a trip that includes landmark UN climate talks next week.
Macron welcomed efforts by the US to defuse the crisis, saying: "What really matters now is what we will do together in the coming weeks, the coming months, the coming years."
A joint communique issued after the meeting said the US had committed "additional assets" to France's counter-terrorism efforts in the Sahel.
The Vatican said they discussed climate change, the pandemic and the issue of refugees and migrants, as well as "the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion and conscience".
Both Biden and the pope have been outspoken on the need to tackle global warming, and Biden will attend the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow starting Monday, with a message that America is once again ready to lead.
Shortly before leaving Washington, Biden unveiled a "historic" blueprint for remaking America's economy, a US$1.75 trillion Build Back Better social welfare package on which he has staked his domestic legacy.
He had hoped to secure the deal before leaving, but it has been dogged by weeks of internal party feuding - it remains to be seen if the revamped deal will gain the support of lawmakers.Biden said his new plan includes "the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis ever" - US$550 billion to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
'PROOF IS BETTER'
Macron told reporters afterward that the meeting with Biden had been helpful, with a "strong" US commitment about European defense, but what happened next was important.
"Trust is like love: Declarations are good, but proof is better," Macron said.
A senior US administration official said after the meeting that the two sides were "moving forward" in their relationship and, after difficult conversations in September and October, talks were now more engaging.
Biden and Macron had a discussion about the rise of China and the questions that poses for democracies and market economies, the official said. They also discussed Iran, supply chains, steel and aluminum tariffs and trade.
The two nations issued a lengthy joint statement after the meeting painting themselves as global democratic partners in the fight against a range of challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis and ensuring the "indivisible security" of the NATO alliance.
Washington has taken several steps to fix the relationship with Paris since the rift last month.
Biden and Macron spoke to each other last week. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also visited Paris, where he acknowledged the United States could have "communicated better." Vice President Kamala Harris also announced that she would travel to Paris in November and meet with Macron.
Biden and Macron met at the Villa Bonaparte, the French embassy to the Vatican, which a French diplomat said was a significant mark of goodwill from Biden.
"It's an important gesture," the French diplomat said, adding that the United States recognised that it had underestimated the impact of its actions.
France now wants to see if Biden follows his words with actions. "Trust is being rebuilt. This is one step. Tokens of goodwill were given, we'll see whether they follow through over the long term," the diplomat said.
Biden and Macron are in Rome for the Group of 20 summit of world leaders, which opens on Saturday.