US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call
In this June 14, 2021 file photo, U.S. President Joe Biden, right, speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a plenary session during a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (AP)
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Updated 23 September 2021

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call
  • Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners”

PARIS: The most significant rift in decades between the United States and France seemed on the mend Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden got on the phone to smooth things over.
In a half-hour call that the White House described as “friendly,” the two leaders agreed to meet next month to discuss the way forward after the French fiercely objected when the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week that cost the French a submarine contract worth billions.
The White House made a point of releasing a photograph of Biden smiling during his call with Macron.
In a carefully crafted joint statement, the two governments said Biden and Macron “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence.”
So did Biden apologize?
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped the question repeatedly, allowing that Biden did acknowledge “there could have been greater consultation.”
“The president is hopeful this is a step in returning to normal in a long, important, abiding relationship that the United States has with France,” she said.
The call suggested a cooling of tempers after days of outrage from Paris directed at the Biden administration.
In an unprecedented move, France last week recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia to protest what the French said amounted to a stab in the back by allies. As part of the defense pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
It was clear there is still repair work to be done.
The joint statement said the French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” upon his return to the United States.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” the statement said.
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a visit to Washington, didn’t mince words in suggesting it was time for France to move past its anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
Psaki declined to weigh in on whether Johnson’s comments were constructive at a moment when the US was trying to mend relations with France.
The European Union last week unveiled its own new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
No decision has been made about the French ambassador to Australia, the Elysee said, adding that no phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was scheduled.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office had said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described last week’s US-UK-Australia announcement as creating a “crisis of trust,” with Macron being formally notified only a few hours beforehand. The move had prompted fury in Paris, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back.”
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
Following the Macron-Biden call, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in New York with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as the administration worked to repair the damage done to broader EU-US relations by the deal.
Blinken spoke of the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation on any number issues “quite literally around the world, to include of course Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific and Europe and beyond.”
Borrell, taking note of the phone call, said he hoped to be able to “build a stronger confidence among us following the conversation that had been taking place this morning between President Biden and President Macron. I’m sure we’ll be working together.”
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
Psaki echoed Johnson’s point that the creation of the new security alliance — which has been dubbed AUKUS — wasn’t meant to freeze out other allies on Indo-Pacific strategy.
“During the conversation, the president reaffirmed the strategic importance of France — French and European nations I should say — in the Indo-Pacific region,” Psaki said.
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.


Italian political leader praises stronger Saudi ties ahead of Rome G20 Summit

Italian political leader praises stronger Saudi ties ahead of Rome G20 Summit
Updated 23 sec ago

Italian political leader praises stronger Saudi ties ahead of Rome G20 Summit

Italian political leader praises stronger Saudi ties ahead of Rome G20 Summit
  • Parliamentary speaker says cooperation in fight against terrorism ‘particularly important’
  • Calls for ‘commonly agreed strategy’ on migrants, saying ‘raising walls will not solve the issue’

ROME: Cooperation between Italy and Saudi Arabia in the fight against international terrorism has been praised by one of Italy’s key political figures who also called for the two countries to work closely together to deal with the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean as well as conflicts throughout the Middle East.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News ahead of the G20 Rome Summit, the Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Roberto Fico appealed for a “commonly agreed strategy” to manage the migrant and refugee issue, adding that Europe has an important role to play and “must provide a collective response.”

Fico, 46, has presided over the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Italy’s bicameral Parliament, since 2018 and is one of the most powerful figures in the country’s political hierarchy.

He is a leading voice in the Five Star Movement, the populist party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo that has played a central role in Italian coalition governments since 2018.

During his time in office Fico has been a powerful advocate for human rights worldwide, economic sustainability, environmentally friendly policies, and common access to essentials such as clean drinking water.

Fico told Arab News that he has high expectations of the G20 Rome Summit on Oct. 30-31, with Italy hosting the event after the 2020 forum was staged in Riyadh.

“The opportunities for debate on a multilateral level are most important because they make it possible to address complex issues affecting the entire planet, and to do so by bringing together all the main players involved,” he said.

A recent meeting of G20 parliamentary speakers that Fico co-chaired with Italian Senate President Elisabetta Casellati “confirmed the importance of debating these issues together and finding common solutions.”

Fico said that he believed the G20 Summit will help Italy’s recovery from the social and economic effects of the global pandemic.

“Italy has paid a very high price in human lives. The country is now in a recovery phase, but we still need to be very careful,” he said.

“Italy has been hit hard and has reacted in an extraordinary manner. Now we need to work on the health front and, at the same time, on our economic and social recovery, as we are indeed doing with a package of reforms to implement the Next Generation EU plan.”

Fico said relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia “have evolved in recent years, and cooperation in the area of anti-terrorism is particularly important.”

He added: “I am convinced, however, that more can be done in the area of human and civil rights, and in the management of crises and conflicts in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.”

Fico called for the global community to adopt “a commonly agreed strategy” to deal with the migrant crisis, with thousands of people risking their lives trying to reach Italy from Libya and Tunisia.

Italy is on the frontline of the crisis, he said, but Europe has a key role to play. “It must provide a collective response, hopefully with a single voice, to meet both the challenge of receiving them and, above all, the challenge of cooperation,” he added.

“No one can think of solving a problem as vast and complex as migration by raising walls. We need to devise solutions that are consistent with international law, and jointly agreed with the countries of origin and transit, in order to ensure the orderly management of migration flows.”

He also called for “a commitment to block foreign influence on the electoral process that the Libyans want and are working on.”


Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland
Updated 7 min 1 sec ago

Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland
  • Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged
  • In Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car

WARSAW: Four people were killed and 18 injured in a storm that battered Poland with hurricane-force winds on Thursday night, authorities said, damaging properties and felling trees across western and central areas of the country.
Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged, private broadcaster TVN24 reported, with the western region of Lubuskie and the central Lodzkie region hardest hit.
“The storm was terrible, it broke the sheet metal and took it from one part of the roof to the other side of the house,” Krzysztof Kolczynski, whose house in the village of Maszkowice in central Poland was damaged in the storm, told TVN24.
“It’s good that there were chimneys, otherwise it would have torn off the entire roof.”
In the south-western city of Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car.
“Wroclaw police received a report about a tree that fell on a moving vehicle,” said police officer Pawel Noga. “Unfortunately, it was confirmed on the spot that two people in the car were killed in the incident.”
The Polish meteorological office issued fresh storm warnings for Friday evening, with the north of the country expected to face the strongest winds.


Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer
Updated 23 min 49 sec ago

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer
  • Baldwin shot Halyna Hutchins, the photography director of ‘Rust,’ and Joel Souza, the film’s director
  • Baldwin was seen ‘distraught and in tears’ as he spoke on the phone outside the sheriff’s office in Santa Fe

Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun on a movie set in New Mexico on Thursday, authorities said.
Baldwin shot Halyna Hutchins, the photography director of “Rust,” and Joel Souza, the film’s director, at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location south of Santa Fe, according to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department.
Hutchins was transported by helicopter to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Souza was taken by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical center to undergo treatment for his injuries. The severity of his injuries could not immediately be determined.
Actress Frances Fisher said on Twitter that “Souza texted me that he’s out of hospital.” Asked whether Souza had been discharged, medical center spokesperson Arturo Delgado said he was not allowed to release information about patients.
The Sheriff’s office said that no charges have been filed and they are investigating the shooting and interviewing witnesses.
“The investigation remains open and active,” the Sherrif’s office said in a statement.
Entertainment news site cited a source in the Sheriff’s office as saying that Baldwin was questioned by investigators and later released.
Baldwin went to the sheriff’s office willingly and provided a statement to investigators, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, citing spokesperson Juan Rios.
Deputies were still trying to determine whether what happened was an accident, the newspaper added. Rios did not immediately respond to requests for information from Reuters.
Baldwin’s representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Earlier on Thursday, news magazine People reported that a spokesperson for Baldwin had said there was an “accident” involving the “misfire of a prop gun with blanks.”
Baldwin was seen “distraught and in tears” as he spoke on the phone outside the sheriff’s office headquarters on Thursday, the Santa Fe New Mexican wrote.
Baldwin, 63, is a co-producer of “Rust,” a Western movie set in 1880s Kansas, and plays the eponymous character who is an outlaw grandfather of a 13-year-old boy convicted of an accidental killing.
Production of the film had been halted for an “undetermined period,” several news outlets quoted the film’s production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, as saying.
An email to an address for the film production, which was listed on a New Mexico government statement, went unanswered.
The shooting evoked memories of an on-set accident in 1993 when US actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died aged 28 after being fatally wounded by a prop gun filming “The Crow.”
“Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust’. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period,” said a tweet from Lee’s account, which is handled by his sister.
Earlier on Thursday, Baldwin posted a picture of himself on Instagram sporting a grey beard and dressed in Western cowboy-style attire in front of trailers. He appeared to have a fake blood stain on his shirt and jacket.
“Back to in person at the office. Blimey ... it’s exhausting,” he wrote. The post was deleted late on Thursday night.
Known for his impersonations of former US President Donald Trump on NBC’s comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live,” Baldwin has a long history in film and television, including roles in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “30 Rock.”
Baldwin was charged in 2018 after a fight over a New York parking spot. He pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment and agreed to participate in an anger management program.
In 2014, he was given a summons for disorderly conduct after an argument with police who stopped him from riding his bike down a one-way street in New York. And in 2011, he was thrown off a plane for refusing to stop playing the game “Words with Friends” before take-off.
Hutchins, 42, who was originally from Ukraine and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, once worked as an investigative reporter in Europe, according to her website.
She graduated from the American Film Institute in 2015 and was selected as one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019, according to her website biography.
She described herself as a “Restless Dreamer” and an “Adrenaline junkie” on her Instagram page.
Her last post, two days ago, shows her grinning under a wide-brimmed hat as she rides a horse. “One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off:)” she captioned the video.
April Wright, a writer, director and producer, paid tribute to her on Facebook.
“I’m in disbelief,” wrote Wright. “So young, vibrant, and talented. Such a wonderful soul. My heart goes out to her son and family.”
Representatives for Hutchins did not immediately respond to a request for information about her death.
Souza, 48, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children, according to the IMDB website. His LinkedIn page credits him as the “writer/director” of action film Crown Vic and comedy Christmas Trade.
“This is still an active investigation and we do not yet have all the facts,” said SAG-AFTRA, which describes itself as the world’s biggest labor union representing performers and broadcasters.
“We will continue to work with production, the other unions, and the authorities to investigate this incident and to understand how to prevent such a thing from happening again.”


MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess
Updated 59 min 30 sec ago

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess

MP’s killer targeted two other politicians before murdering Sir David Amess
  • Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is accused of murder and preparing acts of terrorism in a Daesh-inspired attack
  • The attack has prompted a re-think of security for British parliamentarians

LONDON: The man accused of murdering British parliamentarian Sir David Amess had also planned attacks on two other politicians, a court heard on Wednesday.

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is alleged to have spent two years plotting an act of terrorism before he finally killed Sir David last Friday, in what prosecutors will argue was a Daesh-inspired attack.

He is said to have spied on two other members of parliament this year, scoping out their homes, constituency meetings and their movements at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Ali was charged with murder on Wednesday over the fatal stabbing of Sir David, as well as preparing acts of terrorism between May 2019 and September this year.

It is understood that prosecutors will allege that Ali, a British man of Somali descent, may have targeted his victim because of his record of voting on Syrian airstrikes, the Times reported.

Ali allegedly contacted Sir David asking for an appointment at in his constituency surgery, claiming he was moving to the area and needed advice. James Cable, for the prosecution, said Ali traveled by train from his home in London to Southend, where Sir David was the local MP.

British MPs run regular open, accessible meetings with members of the public called surgeries. The government has said it will now offer to provide security at those surgeries in future.

Nick Price, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations.”

Police have said the investigation into the killing continues and have called on the public to come forward if they have relevant information.

Matt Jukes, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner, said: “A large team of detectives have been working around the clock to find out as much as we can about what happened and why. If there are members of the public who have further information that might help the investigation, I urge them to come forward.”


Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit
Updated 22 October 2021

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit

Queen Elizabeth II back at castle following hospital visit
  • The queen underwent the tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland
  • She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year

LONDON: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was back at Windsor Castle on Friday and in good spirits after revelations that she spent the night in a London hospital earlier this week.
Buckingham Palace said the 95-year-old British monarch went to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London on Wednesday for “preliminary investigations.” She returned to her Windsor Castle home at lunchtime on Thursday and was understood to be back at her desk by afternoon, undertaking light duties.
The queen underwent the tests after she canceled a scheduled trip to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland, and the palace said she had “reluctantly” accepted medical advice to rest for a few days. The matter was not related to COVID-19.
The palace does not normally offer a running account of the monarch’s health, citing her privacy. However, in this case it confirmed the queen’s hospital stay after The Sun newspaper reported the news.
On the whole, there is a rule of thumb is that if a senior member of the royal family undergoes a procedure or an operation, there is a medical bulletin, royal expert Robert Hardman told the BBC. But that doesn’t apply to tests.
The attention paid to the development merely reflects the great affection the global community has for the monarch, said Hardman, author of “Queen of the World,” which chronicles the monarch’s influence and stature around the globe.
“She hates people making a fuss of her in general but particularly to do with health,” he told the BBC. “And I think there’s a concern to sort of maintain the dignity of the office, and I know that one reason why nothing was said about yesterday’s trip to hospital was that they sort of didn’t suddenly want sort of huge banks of cameras and 24-hour news setting up outside the hospital.”
There has been some disquiet this week about Elizabeth’s health. Only days ago, she was seen using a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service marking the centenary of the Royal British Legion, an armed forces charity. Though she had used a cane in 2003, it was after she underwent knee surgery.
Focus then turned to her hectic schedule, which has in recent days included audiences with diplomats, a reception at Windsor Castle for global business leaders, and attending the horse race at Ascot Racecourse.
In less than two weeks she is due to host world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland — a big engagement cited as one reason why she might want to rest up in advance.
Though Elizabeth has enjoyed robust health throughout her life, she is Britain’s longest-lived and longest-reigning monarch. She is due to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — next year.
Elizabeth has ruled since 1952 and was widowed this year when Prince Philip died at age 99 in April. She has cut back on her workload in recent years but still keeps a busy schedule of royal duties.
She recently declined the honor of being named “Oldie of the Year” by The Oldie magazine. Her office said that “Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept.”