PARIS / CANBERRA / WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 (Reuters) – France plunged into an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with the United States and Australia on Friday after recalling its ambassadors from the two countries over a trilateral security agreement that sunk a French-designed submarine contract with Canberra.
The rare decision taken by French President Emmanuel Macron was taken because of the “exceptional gravity” of the case, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.
Australia on Thursday announced it would cancel a $ 40 billion deal signed in 2016 for the French naval group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with the technology. United States and Britain after entering into a trilateral security partnership. France called it a stab in the back.
A diplomatic source in France said it was the first time that Paris had recalled its own ambassadors in this way.
Australia said on Saturday morning it regretted the recall and appreciated the relationship with France and would continue to engage with Paris on other issues.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment at our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests,” a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said France was a “vital ally” and that the United States would commit to resolving the differences in the coming days.
The French Foreign Ministry’s statement made no mention of Britain, but the diplomatic source said France considered Britain to have joined the deal opportunistically.
“We don’t need to consult our (British) ambassador to find out what to think or draw conclusions,” the source added.
Le Drian said the deal was unacceptable.
“The cancellation (of the project) (…) and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States intended to launch studies on a possible future cooperation on nuclear submarines, constitute unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, “he said in a statement. declaration.
He added that the consequences “directly affect our vision of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe”.
The row marks the lowest point in Australia-France relations since 1995, when Canberra protested France’s decision to resume nuclear testing in the South Pacific and recalled its ambassador for consultations.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed French criticism that he had not been warned of the new deal on Friday and said he raised the possibility during talks with the French president that Australia could cancel the deal. agreement with Naval Group.
Morrison insisted he told Macron in June that Australia had revised his thinking.
“I was very clear, we had a long dinner over there in Paris, on our very important concerns about the capabilities of conventional submarines to cope with the new strategic environment we are facing,” he said. he declared on radio 5aa.
“I made it very clear that this is an issue that Australia should decide in our national interest.”
The tension in multilateral relations comes as the United States and its allies seek additional support in Asia and the Pacific, given concerns about the growing influence of a more assertive China.
France is set to take over the presidency of the European Union, which released its Indo-Pacific strategy on Thursday, pledging to seek a trade deal with Taiwan and deploy more ships to maintain sea routes open.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried Thursday to calm the French outcry, calling France a key partner in the region.
Pierre Morcos, visiting researcher at the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, described France’s decision as “historic”.
“Reassuring words such as those heard yesterday by Secretary Blinken are not enough for Paris – especially after the French authorities learned that this agreement had been in preparation for months,” he said.
Reporting by Colin Packham, John Irish and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Robert Birsel, David Gregorio and Sonya Hepinstall
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.