Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says decision ‘justified by exceptional seriousness of announcements’ made by Australia and the United States.
France has said it is immediately recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for consultations after the two countries and the UK signed a deal which ended a French-designed submarine contract.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Friday the decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.
He said the cancellation by Australia of the contract to buy French conventional submarines in favour of nuclear-powered subs built with US technology is “unacceptable behaviour”.
Earlier Friday, a top French diplomat spoke of a “crisis” in relations with the US.
The diplomat, who spoke anonymously in line with customary government practice, said that for Paris “this is a strategic question concerning the very nature of the relationship between Europe and the United States about the Indo-Pacific strategy”.
He would not speculate on the effects the situation would have on France’s relationship with the US “There’s a crisis,” he stressed.
Macron has not commented on the issue since President Joe Biden’s announcement of a strategic Indo-Pacific alliance with Australia and the UK, leading France to lose a nearly $100bn deal to build diesel-electric submarines.
France has pushed for several years for a European strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the region stretching from India and China to Japan and New Zealand. The EU unveiled this week its plan for the Indo-Pacific.
The French diplomat said Friday that Macron received a letter from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday morning announcing the decision to cancel the submarine deal.
French officials then decided to reach out to the US administration “to ask what was going on,” he said. He added that discussions with Washington took place just two to three hours before Biden’s public announcement.
Le Drian on Thursday expressed “total incomprehension” at the move and criticised both Australia and the US.
“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” he said. “This is not done between allies.”
He also compared Biden’s move to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under Trump’s “America First” doctrine.
Paris had raised the issue of the Indo-Pacific strategy during the June 25 visit to Paris of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressing the importance of its submarine program with Australia, the diplomat said.
“We said that is was for us a very important and critical component in our Indo-Pacific strategy,” he said. Blinken met with Macron during the visit.
The French diplomat said Australia never mentioned to France before its will to shift to nuclear-powered submarines, including during a meeting between Macron and Morrison in Paris on June 15.