WASHINGTON – US Vice-President Kamala Harris embarked on her third overseas trip Monday (Nov 8), during which she will grapple with the European migrant crisis and mend fences with France over a bitter diplomatic row.
Harris will hold four days of meetings in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders, delivering remarks at a peace forum and taking part in a multilateral conference on Libya.
The schedule includes a one-on-one sit-down with Macron on Wednesday (Nov 10) where Harris will take up President Joe Biden’s recent overtures aimed at restoring ties strained by the Aukus submarine deal.
Biden had told Macron last week he had been “clumsy” in keeping France out of the loop on a US-Australian deal on nuclear-powered submarines, a move that prompted France to take the highly unusual step of temporarily recalling its ambassador in Washington.
The deal undercut an agreement worth more than US$60 billion struck by a French defence contractor to sell diesel-powered submarines to Australia.
“The relationship between the United States and France – and also the transatlantic relationship between the US and Europe – is really critical for us. And this is something that candidate Biden stressed throughout the campaign,” a senior White House official said.
“And from the very first days in office, President Biden and Vice President Harris have made strengthening our alliances a core element of what we want to do for our foreign policy.”
A second senior official said Harris’ speech at Thursday’s Paris Peace Forum, which focuses this year on Covid recovery, would address “big, converging global crises,” targeting “rising inequality and the need for leaders around the world to join together and take bold action.”
Before returning to Washington, Harris will take part Friday in the Paris Conference on Libya, a diplomatic push to promote peaceful elections that could stem the tide of migrants fleeing the conflict-hit country for Europe.
“We want to build a stable and prosperous Libya free from foreign interference and capable of combating terrorism within its borders,” the official said.
The vice-president has come under fire over her performance as the administration’s point person on America’s own migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border, which critics say has worsened since Biden came into office.