- The Washington Times
Friday, September 17, 2021

France on Friday recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia over President Biden’s nuclear-powered submarine deal with Australia, undercutting their previous submarine deal with the French.

The first-ever recall of a French ambassador to the U.S. marks a significant escalation in the growing fallout between the countries.

“At the request of the President of the Republic, I am recalling to Paris without delay our ambassadors to the United States and Australia for consultations,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement. “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on 15th September by Australia and the United States.”

The move is unusual between allies and suggests a deep bruise to the relationship.

Earlier Friday, a high-ranking French diplomat said relations with the U.S. had entered a crisis and that, for France, “this is a strategic question concerning the very nature of the relationship between Europe and the United States about the Indo-Pacific strategy.”

France’s relations with the U.S. turned frosty Wednesday when Mr. Biden announced the U.S.’s newly formed strategic Into-Pacific alliance with Australia and the U.K. As part of the alliance, the U.S. will provide Australia with nuclear-powered technology for eight new submarines, a bid to bolster the West’s undersea advantage in China’s backyard.

The U.S. pact with Australia undercut a $100 billion deal in which Australia agreed to buy French diesel-electric submarines. France was kept from the talks leading and was only alerted just before the deal was announced.

Mr. Le Drian said the deal formed in secrecy was “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.” He said the deal’s “consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”

“It was really a stab in the back,” Mr. Le Drian said Thursday. “We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed. This is not done between allies.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on France’s claim that they were not engaged, telling members of the press on Thursday that French officials were engaged in advance and aware of the announcement.

A spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said the administration is in contact with Paris over the recall. 

“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,” spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement. 

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 statement continued. 

After the deal was announced, French officials canceled a gala scheduled for Friday at the French embassy in Washington.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who spoke at the American Enterprise Institute before the ambassadors were recalled, said she understood their disappointment and called the row a “difficult issue to manage.”

She added that France was an important partner in the Indo-Pacific and committed to continue dialogue with France.

This story is based in part on wire reports.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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