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Where The U.S. Stands With France Now That Biden Is In Charge

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

America is back - those words delivered by President Biden to allies in Europe. They signal Biden's efforts to restore a strong transatlantic partnership, a partnership that he says, quote, "must remain the cornerstone of all that we hope to accomplish in the 21st century," which is a lot - tackling climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, Iran.

So how are President Biden's overtures being received in Europe? Well, we're going to get one perspective today from Philippe Etienne, France's ambassador to Washington.

Ambassador, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PHILIPPE ETIENNE: Thank you very much, Mary Louise. Thank you for your invitation.

KELLY: I want to start big picture. President Biden says America is back. Your president, Emmanuel Macron, says not so fast, that things cannot go back to the way they were. He's pushing for Europe to be less dependent on the U.S. - how, specifically?

ETIENNE: I'm not sure he said exactly that because we welcome, of course, a lot of things, in the decisions which have been already taken, for instance, to bring the U.S. back to the Paris Climate Agreement or to remain in the WHO. Actually, it is true that you are not going back to a situation which existed before because the world has been moving. But we see a lot of convergences and actually a lot of common gulfs between our agendas right now across the Atlantic.

KELLY: Let's stay with climate change for a moment. President Biden, as we noted, has rejoined the Paris climate accord. What else does France want to see from the United States on the climate front?

ETIENNE: You know, Mary Louise, the climate ambition must be increased. Otherwise, we miss the targets from the Paris Climate Agreement. In Europe, for instance, we have increased our commitment to lower by 55% instead of 40% in 2030 our greenhouse gas emissions. So we need, first, more ambition in the commitments taken by all of us internally. And we need a stronger engagement internationally and also to develop concrete actions not only between governments, but also with the civil society, with the business, with the financial institutions.

KELLY: Have you had contact with John Kerry, who President Biden has named as his point man on this issue?

ETIENNE: Yes, obviously we know him well. The fact he has been appointed is a very good signal of the new ambition on the U.S. side.

KELLY: May I ask when you are speaking with him, what are you asking for? What are you pushing specifically for the U.S. to do?

ETIENNE: Well, we are discussing about exactly what I told you. For instance, what the U.S. will do internally, what we are ready to do internally in EU, but also how can we work together to promote standards in the financial community in terms of disclosure of climate risks or engaging not only public money, but also private money. Both are important to foster sustainable investments, to prepare the future of our economies and our societies.

KELLY: May I turn you to Iran? Secretary of State Tony Blinken told me the other week in an interview that he wants to get Iran back in the nuclear box - that was his words - that he also wants an agreement that is longer and stronger than the last one. Does France share that ambition?

ETIENNE: Mary Louise, in this respect, we have been very consistent since the last years. We have always said that the JCPOA is a very, very important instrument to ensure the non-proliferation in the nuclear field.

KELLY: The JCPOA - the formal name for the nuclear deal.

ETIENNE: The whole set of issues has been clearly mentioned a lot of times by our country.

KELLY: There's a little bit of a standoff over quite how the U.S. might rejoin the nuclear deal in the sense that Iran says, hey, U.S., you left the deal. If you want back in, lift sanctions, and then we can talk. The U.S. says, no, you have to get back to where you were in compliance with the full deal, and then we can talk. Does France have a position on who needs to go first?

ETIENNE: (Laughter) Well, you have summed it up quite well. Iran on its side, since 2019, has taken a lot of worrying decisions to get back from the compliance. But at least we have this opportunity, a necessity to bring everybody back to the table of negotiation because, of course, the issue of how we will do it concretely is not an easy one. But the first thing we must have is a discussion, a negotiation. And the U.S. is accepting that.

KELLY: I noticed you haven't quite answered my question over whether France has a position on who needs to go first. But you're saying...

ETIENNE: No, I answered.

KELLY: ...At least it's progress that they're talking about talking.

ETIENNE: No, I answered because you have to discuss this, of course. Every side has to take steps, of course, concrete steps.

KELLY: Ambassador, thank you very much.

ETIENNE: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: That is Philippe Etienne. He is France's ambassador to the U.S. (Speaking French).

ETIENNE: (Speaking French). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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