France recalls ambassadors from close allies U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Published : September 18, 2021 18:41 IST

French President Emmanuel Macron and then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull standing on the deck of HMAS Waller, a Collins-class submarine operated by the Royal Australian Navy, at Garden Island in Sydney. Photo: Brendan Eposito/POOL/AFP

The move came after Australia broke off a submarine deal with France to buy nuclear-powered subs from the U.S.

The French government on September 17 announced it would recall its envoys from the United States and Australia. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the decision was requested by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The move came after Australia on September 16 broke off a submarine deal worth at least $40 billion (€34 billion) with France to build diesel-electric submarines to instead buy nuclear-powered ones from the U.S.

What did France say?

In a written statement, Le Drian emphasized the French decision "is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements." The French government has expressed anger at the U.S.-Australia deal, which also includes the U.K. Macron has not commented on the issue since U.S. President Joe Biden made the announcement on September 15.

The recalling of France's ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, close allies, is unprecedented.

How has Washington responded?

The White House said on September 17 that it regrets France's decision, but that will work to resolve the major diplomatic spat. In a statement, State Department spokesperson Ned Price called France "a vital partner and our oldest ally," saying that high-level talks would likely take place during the U.N. General Assembly meeting next week. While China was not mentioned in his announcement of the defense alliance, Biden did speak of "rapidly evolving threats" as a reason for the so-called AUKUS alliance of Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.

The French Embassy in Washington also called off a gala to celebrate bilateral ties at its ambassador's house that had been scheduled for September 17.

Why did Australia break off the deal?

Australia's Foreign Ministry said Canberra regrets France's move to recall its ambassador, but said it would continue to work with France on other issues. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged the damage to bilateral ties with France but insisted he told French President Emmanuel Macron of Australia's plans in June over a lengthy dinner in Paris. Morrison told an Australian radio station the choice was made in "the new strategic environment we're faced with."

France has pushed for years for a collective European political, economic and military strategy for the Pacific region. This week, the E.U. unveiled its plans for the Indo-Pacific.

ar/rs (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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