KEY POINTS

  • France was furious after the U.S. cut a nuclear technology deal with Australia and the UK behind its back
  • France – one of America’s oldest allies – temporarily recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia
  • Paris called the deal a "stab in the back" 

President Joe Biden "literally" had no idea of the anger that a secretive nuclear submarine deal that the United States cut with the United Kingdom and Australia last month caused in France, plunging relations between Paris and Washington to a historic low, U.S. climate czar John Kerry said in an interview. 

“He literally had not been aware of what had transpired,” Kerry said defending Biden in an interview to French broadcaster BFMTV that aired Monday. Biden's Special Presidential Envoy for Climate made the comment when he was asked to address the critics who say France’s exclusion from the nuclear pact is a betrayal of its friendship with the U.S.

Kerry's assertion, while an attempt to mollify the U.S.' oldest ally, is also seen as an implicit public admission that President Biden, the sheen of whose presidency has been marred by the chaos of the exit from Afghanistan and the political battle in Washington over his legislative agenda, is not able to keep up with the global repercussions of some of the important decisions being made under his watch. 

In the video of the interview, Kerry can be heard saying: “President Biden asked me about it, and I told him, and expressed—”.

At this point, the interviewer, looking surprised, asked Kerry: “You told to Biden that it was not right?”

“He asked me,” Kerry said. “He said, ‘What’s the situation?’ and I explained exactly—he had not been aware of that. He literally, literally had not been aware of what had transpired.”

Watch the interview below. Kerry's damning statement comes at 18:55 minutes into the clip.

Predictably, conservative media outlet Washington Examiner asked who was really in charge at the Oval office.

"If he’s telling the truth, it means the president of the United States had no idea France, one of America’s oldest allies, was incensed after it learned it was excluded from the U.S.' nuclear technology deal," the Examiner said. "And not just a little angry. France was so angry, in fact, it recalled its ambassadors to the U.S., an unprecedented and not-at-all-subtle act clearly expressing outrage and extreme disappointment.

"And Biden apparently didn’t know about any of this? It took a briefing from his climate envoy to make him aware of the situation on the other side of the Atlantic?"

Paris reacted with fury last month after the Biden administration's submarine deal sidelined a separate $40 billion deal that France had with Australia in 2016.  France called off a planned gala in Washington, D.C., and temporarily recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, calling the cancellation a "stab in the back." 

"We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last month. “This is not done between allies.” He also compared Biden’s move to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under Trump’s “America First” doctrine.

“I don’t want to go into the details of it, but suffice to say … the president is very committed to strengthening the relationship and making sure that this is a small event of the past and moving on to the much more important future,” the Hill quoted Kerry as saying. “We have a relationship with France that is so much bigger than this moment.”

Kerry, who spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, said the two countries understand they “have so much to work on.”

“I’m absolutely confident that the bigger issues we have to work on about nuclear weapons, about cyber warfare, about climate ... We have a lot of work to do and we can’t get lost in a momentary event that I think we will get past very quickly.” 

Kerry's comments also came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken took another step toward fixing the rupture with France by meeting with Macron in Paris and discussing France's push for more NATO security cooperation. 

The one-on-one meeting lasted around 40 minutes with "common agreement that we have an opportunity now to deepen and strengthen the coordination" even though "a lot of hard work remains to be done," a senior State Department official told reporters in Paris, adding that the mood of the encounter was "serious."

"I don't want to characterize their emotions, but I would say, at least in the discussions we had, it was very cordial and amicable," the official said, according to France 24.

US envoy for climate John Kerry said nations were moving too slowly US envoy for climate John Kerry said nations were moving too slowly Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski