The US, Australia and Britain insisted Monday that the diplomatic crisis wouldn’t affect their longer-term relations with France, which is seething over a surprise, strategic submarine deal involving the three countries that sank a rival French submarine contract.
France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia for the first time in history because of the deal, and its anger is showing few signs of subsiding.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in New York to represent France at the U.N. General Assembly, is expected to give a news conference Monday to address the situation. He’s also meeting with foreign ministers from the other 26 European Union nations in New York, where he will discuss the consequences of the submarine deal and France’s vision for a more strategically independent Europe.
France won support Monday from the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, who told CNN that “one of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable. … We want to know what happened and why.”
While US President Joe Biden is hosting the Australian and British leaders this week, he won’t see French President Emmanuel Macron, who’s not traveling to the UN
Instead, Biden plans a call with Macron in the coming days, where he will underscore the U.S. commitment to its alliance with France and lay out specific measures the two nations can take together in the Indo-Pacific, according to a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss planning for the leaders’ call. The official said while the administration understands the French position on the issue, it did not “share their view in terms of how this all developed.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a disagreement about “a single decision” would not disrupt a relationship or harm the United States’ standing across Europe.
The submarine deal, known as AUKUS, will see Australia cancel a contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and instead acquire nuclear-powered vessels from the US. The US, Australia and Britain say the deal bolsters their commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and has widely been seen as a move to counter an increasingly assertive China.
The French government appears to have been blindsided by the agreement, and feels its own strategic interests in the Pacific — thanks to its territories and military presence there — were ignored by major allies.
“It’s not just a Franco-Australian affair, but a rupture of trust in alliances,” the French foreign minister was quoted as saying in the French newspaper Ouest-France. “It calls for serious reflection about the very concept of what we do with alliances.”
Le Drian said he canceled a meeting with his Australian counterpart in New York “for obvious reasons.”
Le Drian said he has no meeting scheduled with his US counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while he’s at the U.N., but might “pass him in the hallways.”
Meanwhile France’s defense minister canceled a meeting with her British counterpart this week.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, insisted that Britain’s relationship with France is “ineradicable.” Speaking on his way to New York, he said, “AUKUS is not in any way meant to be zero-sum, it’s not meant to be exclusionary. It’s not something that anybody needs to worry about and particularly not our French friends.”
British officials have stressed the close military ties between the U.K. and France, including joint operations in Mali and Estonia.
In Australia, officials said France’s anger wouldn’t derail negotiations on an Australia-European Union free trade deal.
French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault denied media reports that France was lobbying the EU not to sign the trade deal with Australia that has been under negotiation since 2018.
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he would travel to Paris within weeks for trade negotiations and was “very keen to touch base with my French counterpart.”
“I see no reason why those discussions won’t continue,” Tehan said.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, said Monday they’re analyzing the impact of the Australian submarine agreement.
Australia argues that the submarine deal was about protecting its strategic interests amid broad concern about China’s growing assertiveness.
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