France on Friday recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia in protest of the Biden administration cutting a deal to provide nuclear submarines to Australia, without consulting French officials.
French Minister for European and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian said he had recalled the envoys “for consultations” at the request of French President Emmanuel Macron and said the move was caused by “the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15th September by Australia and the United States.”
Le Drian added that the new agreement between the US and Australia was “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”
Macron has not commented publicly since the Biden administration announced its strategic Indo-Pacific alliance with Australia and Britain, causing France to lose out on the nearly $100 billion agreement to build diesel-electric submarines.
The agreement was meant to send a strong signal to China that the Anglo-American alliance would help Australia counter Beijing’s economic and military ambitions in the Pacific Rim. It was also seen as a boost for US-Australia relations after Biden failed to contact Morrison ahead of his April announcement that US forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan — and declined to reach out during the chaotic evacuation that ended last month.
However, the pact has also caused the biggest breach in Franco-American relations since then-Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac were at loggerheads in the early 2000s over the looming US invasion of Iraq.
The French government has made its displeasure with the new alliance clear — even cancelling a scheduled Friday gala thrown by its embassy in Washington to mark the 240th anniversary of the Revolutionary War Battle of the Capes.
At the Pentagon Friday, press secretary John Kirby said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken with his French counterpart, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, earlier Friday before Le Drian’s announcement.
“I won’t characterize the French side, of course, but it was clear from the discussion that there is still much work to do in terms of our defense relationship with France,” Kirby acknowledged.
A top French diplomat told the Associated Press that the matter had caused a “crisis” in relations between Washington and Paris, while Le Drian told France Info Thursday the announcement was “a stab in the back.”
“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do,” Le Drian told the outlet. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”
The diplomat told AP that Macron had received a letter from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Wednesday canceling the French submarine deal. Paris officials then decided to reach out to the Biden administration “to ask what was going on,” the diplomat said, adding that discussions with Washington took place just two to three hours before President Biden’s public announcement.The administration tried to strike a conciliatory note Thursday, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling reporters that “we welcome European countries playing an important role in the Indo-Pacific.”
“France, in particular, is a vital partner on this and so many other issues, stretching back generations, and we want to find every opportunity to deepen our transatlantic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and around the world,” Blinken said at a joint event with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and their Australian counterparts.
However, the French diplomat who spoke to AP said the Quai d’Orsay had raised the issue of its Australia submarine deal with Blinken when he traveled to Paris in June and emphasized to the secretary of state that it “was for us a very important and critical component in our Indo-Pacific strategy.”
Furthermore, the diplomat alleged, Morrison had met with Macron in Paris days before Blinken showed up and never mentioned that Australia was interested in nuclear-powered subs.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters she would “leave it, of course, to our Australian partners” to explain why they backed out of the France deal.
“We don’t see this, from our end, as a regional divide,” she said. “We see this as … security issues that we want to take on together.”
National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement Friday evening that the administration has “been in close touch with our French partners on their decision” to recall its ambassador to the US, Pierre Etienne.
“We understand their position and will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance,” Horne said. “France is our oldest ally and one of our strongest partners, and we share a long history of shared democratic values and a commitment to working together to address global challenges.”
Biden left Washington at midday Friday for his home in Delaware and had no immediate response to the announcement from Paris
With Post wires