Defense

France cancels DC gala in anger over Biden sub deal: report

French officials on Thursday canceled a gala at the country’s Washington, D.C., embassy over the Biden administration’s decision to scrap a $40 billion nuclear submarine deal that the European nation had signed with Australia, The New York Times reported.

The U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom on Wednesday announced a new trilateral security partnership in the Indo-Pacific, with the three planning to launch an 18-month review exploring how Australia could best acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

But France — which had worked on providing diesel-electric-powered submarines since 2016 to replace aging Australian vessels — was left behind in the deal.

Now, Paris has angrily scrapped the “240th Anniversary of the Battle of the Capes” event meant to take place Friday evening at the French Embassy and aboard a French frigate in Baltimore, a French official told the Times. The event was meant to celebrate the French navy’s aid to America’s fight for independence in 1781.

Following the perceived snub, France’s top naval officer, who had traveled to Washington for the gala, will now return to Paris early.

Asked about France’s displeasure later on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the United States values its relationship and partnership with France “on a variety of issues facing the global community.”

She cited cooperation on economic and security issues and the coronavirus pandemic, and maintained that the Biden administration was engaged with French officials “in advance of the announcement.”

Psaki also indicated that President Biden would speak with French President Emmanuel Macron “soon” but said she had no calls with French officials to preview. 

Asked later what Biden thinks about the French foreign minister comparing him to former President Trump and the French cancelling the gala, Psaki answered that Biden “doesn’t think about it much” and that he is focused on maintaining the U.S. relationship with France, the U.K. and Australia.

She also said a handful of times that it was Australia’s decision to seek nuclear-powered submarine technology.

Biden is slated to deliver remarks at the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. Psaki wouldn’t say whether Biden has plans to meet with Macron on the sidelines of the annual event.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also on Thursday sought to assure France, saying it was a vital partner, according to remarks made after he spoke with Australian foreign and defense ministers in Washington, Reuters reported.

France has made no secret of its displeasure over being left out of the triad.

Earlier on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the decision 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 franceinfo radio, according to Reuters. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”

At issue is whether the U.S. government sought to hide its submarine deal from the French, who had their own now-scrapped multibillion-dollar deal with Australia, meant to be stretched out over 50 years.

French officials are accusing the Biden administration or shrouding information about its deal with the United Kingdom and Australia despite French diplomats’ repeated attempts to find out more about any such plans.  

A French official told the Times that Paris sought to speak with Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan but were unable to. 

A senior administration official, meanwhile, claimed Biden’s top aides had spoken to their French counterparts before the announcement to alert them of the new security agreement. 

Updated 4:01 p.m.

-Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report 

Tags Antony Blinken Australia Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron France France Jake Sullivan Jen Psaki Joe Biden Nuclear Submarines
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