France recalls envoys from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal
PARIS – France plunged into an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with the United States and Australia on Friday, after it recalled its ambassadors from both countries over a trilateral security deal which sank a U.S. $40 billion French-designed submarine contract.
The rare decision taken by French president Emmanuel Macron was made due to the seriousness of the matter, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.
On Thursday, Australia said it would scrap the U.S. $40 billion deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership.
France called it a stab in the back.
A White House official said the U.S. regretted the French decision and Washington had been in close touch with France over it.
The official said the U.S. would be engaged in coming days to resolve differences with France.
A spokesperson for Australia’s prime minister declined to comment on the matter.
A diplomatic source in France said it was the first time Paris had recalled its own ambassadors in this way.
The foreign ministry statement made no mention of Britain, but the diplomatic source said France considered Britain had joined the deal in an opportunistic manner.
Le Drian said the deal was unacceptable.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried on Thursday to calm the French outcry, calling France a vital partner in the Indo-Pacific.
Earlier on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected French criticism that it had not been warned about the new deal and said he had raised the possibility in talks with the French president that Australia might scrap the 2016 submarine deal with a French company.
Morrison acknowledged the damage to Australia-France ties, but he insisted he told Macron in June that Australia had revised its thinking.
The French announcement came as Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne was speaking at the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington. She gave no sign she was aware of it.
Referring to the submarine deal, Payne said such commercial and strategic decisions were difficult to manage, but, responding to a question, she said there was “no question” that France remained a valued ally.
The strained ties among the long-time allies come as the U.S. and its allies seek additional support in Asia and the Pacific given concern about the rising influence of a more assertive China.
France is about to take over the presidency of the European Union, which on Thursday released its strategy for the Indo-Pacific, pledging to seek a trade deal with Taiwan and to deploy more ships to keep sea routes open.