France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal

France on Friday recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia in protest of a new partnership between the two countries to deliver Australia nuclear-powered submarines.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement Friday afternoon that the decision was made by French President Emmanuel Macron.

“This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15th September by Australia and the United States,” the foreign minister said.

“The cancellation of the Attack class submarine program binding Australia and France since 2016, and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States meant to launch studies on a possible future cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines, constitute 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,” he added.

France has reacted angrily to the new partnership between the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, including by canceling a gala planned in Washington, D.C. The foreign minister earlier this week compared President Biden to former President Trump over the agreement, recalling the frequent unilateral decisions of the prior administration.

France had been seeking a multibillion-dollar defense agreement with Australia, and the new partnership, called AUKUS, means Paris will miss out on the lucrative opportunity.

Biden administration officials said they gave France advanced notice of the pact before Wednesday’s announcement, but French officials appear to have received a heads up just hours beforehand.

The decision to recall an ambassador is a rare occurrence and one that signals considerable increased tensions from France, a close and longtime U.S. ally. Earlier this year, Russia recalled its ambassador to the U.S. after Biden replied in the affirmative when asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “killer” during an interview with ABC News. The U.S. also recalled its ambassador to Russia, but both officials have since returned to their respective posts.

The spat with France represents another foreign policy challenge for Biden, who has put a priority on repairing U.S. alliances after a tumultuous and unpredictable four years of Trump.

“We have been in close touch with our French partners on their decision to recall Ambassador Etienne to Paris for consultations,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement.

“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. 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.”

“The Transatlantic Alliance has fostered security, stability, and prosperity around the world for more than seven decades, and our commitment to those bonds and our work together is unwavering,” State Department spokesman Ned Price added in a statement. 

“We hope to continue our discussion on this issue at the senior level in coming days, including at UNGA next week, in line with our close bilateral partnership and commitment to cooperation on a range of issues, including the Indo-Pacific,” Price said, referencing upcoming United Nations General Assembly that both Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are scheduled to attend. 

Asked to react to the French foreign minister’s announcement on Friday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby reiterated during a press briefing that senior administration officials had been in touch with their French counterparts, including before Wednesday’s announcement. Kirby also said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his counterpart Friday morning.

“It was clear from the discussion that there is still much work to do in terms of our defense relationship with France,” Kirby said, clarifying that he meant “more things to work on” like shared challenges and interests.

“There is no regional divide that separates the interests of our Atlantic and our pacific partners,” Kirby added.

Updated at 8:59 p.m.

Tags Ambassador Antony Blinken Australia Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron France French ambassador Joe Biden John Kirby Lloyd Austin Russia Submarine United States Vladimir Putin
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