(CNN) — Vice President Kamala Harris said she did not discuss with French President Emmanuel Macron the surprise deal between the US and Australia to develop nuclear submarines that angered the French, leading to a fallout between the longstanding allies.
CNN has previously reported that the mission of Harris’ five-day trip abroad was to revitalize that relationship, picking up the mantle from President Joe Biden who met with Macron in Rome, and called the handling of the submarine affair “clumsy.”
“I will tell you that was not the purpose of this trip and we didn’t discuss it,” Harris said Friday, when speaking to reporters in Paris. The vice president was asked if she believed she had done the job to repair the relationship, after the scuttled deal.
“What we did discuss is the issues that are challenging us and the issues that are the basis for this relationship and the strength and the endurance of this relationship,” she added.
“We talked about, for example, our mutual interest in the Western Hemisphere, and issues that range from what are the current challenges to what have been relationships that one could argue should be strengthened and some might even say have been neglected? We talked extensively about our mutual interest, and in many ways, a long standing focus of France, on the continent of Africa.”
Harris’ trip is the latest attempt by the Biden administration to revitalize the French-American relationship less than two months after the longest American allies were blindsided by the decision to help Australia develop nuclear submarines — sinking France’s own submarine deal with Australia in the process. The visit is Harris’ first to Europe in her new role, a key diplomatic test for the vice president and an opportunity to burnish her foreign policy credentials after a rocky first foreign trip earlier this year.
Harris said she and Macron did speak about the “importance of paying attention to those relationships, and understanding the strength of them but also the fragility of them, meaning. We can’t take relationships for granted. They must be present”
Harris said that’s one of the reasons why she and Biden have been going on foreign trips during the pandemic — to be “present.”
“As it relates to me, as vice president, I think that there is no question that I am here as a representative for my country. And my presence here is reflective of the priorities that the United States has as it relates to France,” Harris said of her role.
Harris said she and Macron also discussed the humanitarian situation at the border of Poland and Belarus. Thousands of people are stranded at the border between Poland and Belarus in terrible conditions, trapped at the center of an intensifying dispute between Belarus and the European Union. The migrants — most of whom are from the Middle East and Asia, and who are hoping to travel on from Poland deeper into Europe — have been gathering on the Belarusian side of the Kuznica border crossing. Authorities closed the crossing on Tuesday, with aerial footage showing large crowds congregating in the area.
“We are very concerned and closely paying attention to it,” Harris said, “and the Lukashenko regime I believe is engaged in very troubling activity.”
“The eyes of the world and its leaders are watching,” Harris added.
After spending days in Paris, where locals and visitors must show proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19 to eat at restaurants and be in many other public spaces, Harris said the Biden administration would continue to leave it to “local communities” to make decisions on vaccinations, and not move towards a vaccine passport like the one used in France.
“We have, as you know, been very careful to guide public policy where it is our role to guide it based on what the scientists and medical professionals tell us,” Harris said. “We are also leaving it, as you know, to local communities in large part to make those decisions.”
She said the “most important thing” for the US to focus on currently “is that we now have the ability for children to get vaccinations shot we have at our disposal the ability to actually engage in smart public health, conduct and protocols.”
“The challenge right now is to urge everyone to engage in saving their lives and the lives of your family members and their communities by getting that that’s really it has been in some secret one of our biggest challenges, and, and we will continue to focus on,” Harris said.