France recalls ambassadors to US and Australia to protest submarine deal
France announced Friday that it is immediately recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Australia to protest President Biden’s announcement of an agreement to supply nuclear submarines to Australia without consulting French authorities.
In a statement, the French foreign minister said the decision was taken by President Emmanuel Macron.
“At the request of the President of the Republic, I decided to immediately recall our two ambassadors in the United States and Australia in Paris for consultations”, declared Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Foreign Affairs. “This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States.”
Mr Macron’s move widened the rift between the two longtime allies over the submarine deal, which US and Australian officials kept a secret from the French until just before Wednesday’s announcement.
In the statement announcing that the ambassadors would temporarily return to Paris – a harsh diplomatic measure that is typically used against adversaries – Mr. Le Drian made it clear that his country viewed the actions of the two nations as a serious breach of trust.
He said that the US-Australian partnership, which will result in the abandonment of a previous submarine agreement between Australia and France, constitutes “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, the consequences of which affect the very conception that we we have our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.
The language echoed bitter comments from Mr Le Drian and other French officials on Thursday, suggesting that the anger felt at the highest levels of Mr Macron’s government was more than a fleeting temper tantrum.
US officials admitted to first briefing the French on Wednesday morning, hours before Mr. Biden’s announcement of the deal. They also said senior US officials tried unsuccessfully to schedule meetings with their French counterparts before news of the deal leaked to the Australian and US press.
In a briefing with reporters Friday before the French government’s announcement of the recall, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, downplayed the damage to relations between the two countries.
“As the president said, we are cooperating closely with France on common priorities both in the Indo-Pacific region and we will continue to do so here in the Security Council,” she said. “Good friends have disagreements, but that’s the nature of friendship and it’s because you’re friends, you can have disagreements and keep working on those areas of cooperation.”
She added: “We will continue to work with our French colleagues on areas of cooperation and resolve tensions in our relationship, but we do not see these tensions changing the nature of our friendship. “
But the decision of the French to recall their ambassador to the United States, Philippe Étienne, in order to consult other officials on the American decision is the kind of step generally taken to punish another country, signaling a bad relationship.
In March of this year, Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States after Biden said in an interview that President Vladimir V. Putin would “pay the price” for interference in the 2020 presidential election. Mr. Biden also agreed that Mr. Putin was a “killer”.
Officials in the Biden administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the French decision to recall their ambassador.