US president Joe Biden has admitted the orchestration of the AUKUS pact was “clumsy” as he met with the French president for the first time since the secret submarine deal.
Mr Biden also told Emmanuel Macron that he “was under the impression that France had been informed long before” about Australia’s plan to scrap its $90 billion submarine contract with France.
The two leaders are in Rome for the G20 summit, also being attended by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which comes as Scotland prepares to host the COP26 climate talks.
Mr Biden did not formally apologise to Mr Macron but conceded the US should not have caught the country by surprise.
“I think what happened was, to use an English phrase, what we did was clumsy,” Mr Biden said, adding the submarine deal “was not done with a lot of grace”.
Mr Biden and Mr Macron greeted each other with handshakes and shoulder-grabs in their first face-to-face meeting since France reacted badly to the AUKUS announcement in September.
It follows Mr Macron speaking to Scott Morrison for the first time on Thursday and telling the Prime Minister that Australia “broke the relationship of trust” and it was up to Mr Morrison to repair the relationship.
Mr Morrison, who has landed in Rome for the summit, told reporters the fractured relationship with France was heading back in the right direction and he appreciated that Mr Macron had reached out.
“So we’ve started the way back, I think that’s a positive thing. Of course there will be candid conversations at the start as we deal with the issues as they’ve presented,” he said.
“The way you build back those relationships is you work together on the things that matter to us both,” Mr Morrison said, referencing shared interests in the Indo-Pacific and policies on oceans and technology.
“Antarctica is another key area and Australia is a highly reputable operator there. I know France equally has their interests there,” he said.
Mr Macron had also raised the issue of Australia’s climate targets during the ice-breaking phone call with Mr Morrison as the PM faces diplomatic and activist pressure to take more ambitious action.
Australia has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 but is not lifting its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
G20 leaders including Mr Morrison are expected to endorse a global shift to carbon neutrality by 2050.
The prime minister is set to be greeted by a full-page ad in Italy’s business daily Il Sole 24 Ore featuring a photograph of him in parliament with a lump of coal.
The ad, in English and Italian, bears the slogan: “Don’t let Australia cheat on climate change”.
“Australia is not transitioning away from fossil fuels — it is increasing its dependence on them,” the Australia Institute ad says.
Mr Morrison told reporters it was important to develop global technology solutions that could work worldwide.
“This is why the Australian way to achieving net zero emissions I think is a way all countries can embrace because it’s about getting technology solutions at scale and affordable costs because that’s what history tells us always makes the change.”
The prime minister will speak at the G20 during a session on the dangers of social media for children and will ask other leaders to follow Australia in holding social media platforms to account.
Mr Morrison will also meet with Indonesian leader Joko Widodo, whose government is concerned the nuclear submarines deal could raise tensions in the region and undermine the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
The G20 nations represent more than 80 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and three-quarters of of global greenhouse gas emissions.
But leaders differ in approaches to the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, the use of coal and gas for power and how to tackle methane emissions.