White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday attempted to walk back claims by presidential climate envoy John Kerry that President Biden “had not been aware” that a U.S. submarine pact with Australia angered the French.
“Of course he was aware of the French being upset,” Ms. Psaki said. “He, of course, was aware, the president, of the French being displeased about the deal with the Australians.”
When pressed further on the matter, Ms. Psaki acknowledged that Mr. Biden “doesn’t know about these things in real-time.” But she repeated her assertion that the president knew the French were upset.
She also suggested reporters ask Mr. Kerry about his quotes, noting he’s “good friends” with the president.
During a Monday interview with French television network BFM-TV, Mr. Kerry sought to smooth relations by suggesting the president was blindsided by the dustup over a nuclear submarine deal with Australia.
“[Biden] asked me. He said, ‘What’s the situation?’ And I explained — he had not been aware of that. He literally had not been aware of what had transpired,” Mr. Kerry said.
Mr. Kerry also said the president was committed to “strengthening the relationship” with France and “moving on to the much more important future.”
France expressed outrage after the U.S. formed a trilateral security agreement with Australia and the United Kingdom. Under the pact, the U.S. would supply Australia with nuclear submarines, voiding a $40 billion contract that France had to build submarines for Australia.
In response, France recalled its ambassadors to both the U.S. and Britain and canceled a party at its Washington embassy to celebrate its ties with the U.S. France had never previously recalled its U.S. ambassador since it had helped the American colonies win the War of Independence.
Since the dustup, Mr. Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have spoken and pledged to move past the dispute.