French Ambassador describes what he watches for on Biden’s first trip abroad: NPR
Mary Louise Kelly of NPR speaks with Philippe Etienne, French Ambassador to the United States, about the G-7 summit, NATO and President Biden’s upcoming meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The US and UK today sign a new Atlantic Charter outlining shared values, signaling a renewal of the special relationship between the two nations. President Biden is in the UK today, Day 2 of a carefully choreographed trip to demonstrate America is back, re-engaging and re-engaging in international alliances after four years of Trump and America’s ‘on board. After Britain, Biden travels to Brussels to meet with NATO leaders, EU leaders, what Biden calls like-minded democracies – among them France.
Philippe Etienne is France’s ambassador to Washington, and he is now online to discuss what France will be monitoring during Biden’s first overseas trip as president. Ambassador, welcome to EVERYTHING CONSIDERED.
PHILIPPE ETIENNE: Ah, thank you. Thank you very much, Mary Louise, for welcoming me, and especially today, since yesterday, we have opened France to American citizens. So this is a good opportunity.
KELLY: You’re referring to the lifting of pandemic restrictions. Americans are therefore now welcome in France.
ETIENNE: Yes. And also to the fact that vaccination in France, in Europe in general, is really very successful, as in the USA
KELLY: Yeah, I know France – you’re now at about 20%, was the last number I just saw – 20% of the population over there fully vaccinated. I’m sure I speak for many Americans in saying that we look forward to our next one – to be able to catch a flight and go sightseeing.
Let me point you towards more presidential trips and a larger relationship. I opened by mentioning that Biden is signing this charter today, the renewal of the privileged relationship with the United Kingdom. What about the relationship with France? In the nearly five months since Biden became President Biden, has there been a change?
ETIENNE: Well, France is the oldest ally, so the relationship is growing. We have a very, very good and even thriving economic partnership. But also politically, indeed, things are moving, and we have a lot of common points which will be exposed during the next summits.
KELLY: Well, let me follow the politics. And I ask the question because France saw with its own eyes the United States threatening to withdraw from NATO, withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. . Do you feel like you now have a reliable partner in the United States?
ETIENNE: We can do a lot and we will do a lot. For example, a priority is the vaccination of the world against the virus.
KELLY: Working together on the pandemic – but I wonder if you’re hedging your bets in any way because you have to look ahead and say, OK, four years from now you might have a new US president who’ll rip up. whatever President Biden agrees at the moment.
ETIENNE: As you pointed out, the United States is back in the Paris climate agreement. This is an important example because we can now lay a very solid foundation which will last, I am sure, whatever the outcome of the elections for years to come.
KELLY: You mentioned the G-7 meetings, which are taking place in Britain, and then, of course, the NATO meetings that will follow in Brussels. And I want to ask about the alliance because it’s not just former President Trump who raised questions about the alliance. Your president, President Macron, declared NATO brain dead not too long ago. How would you describe NATO today? Come back to life?
ETIENNE: Well, first of all, I want to draw your attention to the fact that there is a third summit, which is a summit between the United States and the European Union, also in Brussels, like NATO. And the two have a link because the EU is an increasingly reliable partner, including in all areas related to security, which is not only defense, but also everything related to our sovereignty, to our security in the world. And yes, my president said before the last NATO summit in London that it takes a lot of work to restore political cohesion among NATO allies. We had a few …
KELLY: He said – I mean, if I can just say it …
ETIENNE: Yes, please.
KELLY: He said it a lot less diplomatically. He said, and I will quote, “We are living with NATO brain death.”
ETIENNE: Yeah, okay. But we – it was clear – and he said that at the time he was not talking about the military, about the interoperability between our military. He mentioned the lack of political advice with the US administration, but it was also right after Turkey entered northeastern Syria and opposed the Kurds, who are our allies against terrorist groups. . This is so – it was evidently evidence of a lack of coherence and a lack of common vision among the allies.
KELLY: So that’s what brings me to the question today, which is, how would you describe the state of the alliance today, its relevance today?
ETIENNE: After that, we had a group of wise people who worked, and we expect this NATO summit to work for a new strategic concept, NATO 2030, proposed by the Secretary General. We are waiting for more consistency, obviously, with this administration, with President Biden’s re-engagement in the alliance, in – solidarity between allies is one of the very positive, very important elements.
KELLY: The final stop on President Biden’s trip is Geneva, where he will sit with Vladimir Putin. And I nodded at this choreography, it seems to me, very deliberate. Biden wants to project that he arrives in Geneva with all the strength of like-minded European democracies, that it’s not just the United States standing up to Putin, taking a firm line with Putin, but all of you. Is this true of France?
ETIENNE: Like President Biden, as Secretary Blinken said, we believe we need to be firm when Russia takes actions that are unacceptable. But on the other hand, we have to have a dialogue with Russia. So indeed, the fact that this summit takes place in Geneva is important, and the fact that it takes place after the consultations between the United States and its allies is also important because …
KELLY: Well, I’m just going to push you on the Russia issue and ask you the same question I’ve asked many U.S. officials, which is, it’s always about taking a tough line, and yet the Russia’s behavior does not seem to change. Does all of this work? Because Putin still rules Russia, and Russia continues to carry out cyber attacks, hack, commit human rights violations, jail opposition leaders, etc.
ETIENNE: You’re – you’re right. We have to be clear-headed. But it is – to be firm means concretely to take action and react or prevent. And we do. We reacted. We reacted strongly. We have taken action. So it is not only that we say we are firm in words, but we must also dialogue. There is the Iranian negotiation, for example. There are a lot of other issues where we – anyway, we have to negotiate, negotiate with Russia in particular and with others. So this combination is not only the only way for us, but it does not mean that there is only one pillar. The two pillars of firmness and dialogue are working.
KELLY: The diplomacy affair is presented there by a diplomat, Philippe Etienne. He is the French Ambassador to the United States Ambassador, thank you.
ETIENNE: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mary Louise, for having me.
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