Sep 17, 2021 - World

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

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."

Why it matters: It is extremely rare for an ambassador to be recalled from the capital of such a close ally, and a signal of just how furious the French government is with both Australia and the U.S.

What they're saying: "Allies don't do this to each other," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian fumed on Thursday, comparing Biden's announcement to "what Mr. Trump used to do."

  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken tried to mop things up by praising France as a crucial ally in the Indo-Pacific, but to no avail.
  • Le Drian said Friday that the decision to recall the ambassadors for consulations was made by President Emmanuel Macron due to the "unacceptable behavior among allies and partners" which would "affect the very concept we have of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe."
  • The French Embassy in Washington also canceled a gala on Thursday night that was to celebrate the longstanding U.S.-France alliance.

Biden, for his part, heralded a new agreement to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines as part of a trilateral security pact with the U.K. and the U.S. as an "historic step" to update U.S. alliances to face new challenges.

  • The new trilateral partnership, called AUKUS, is part of a wider effort by Biden to develop partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to compete with China across the military, economic and diplomatic dimensions.
  • He has also invited the leaders of Australia, India and Japan to the White House next week for the first in-person summit of the so-called "Quad" countries.
  • But the AUKUS agreement not only outraged France, which had not been informed in advanced, it also came just one day before the EU was set to present its own much-anticipated strategy for the Indo-Pacific, embarrassing the Europeans as they sought to flex their own geopolitical muscle.

Between the lines: This move could be in part intended for domestic conception after a major international snub, and with a presidential election looming in April.

Worth noting: The French ambassador to the U.K. is not being recalled, a source with close knowledge of the situation told Axios. The source did not provide any explanation for that decision.

Go deeper: Biden blindsides Europe with new AUKUS alliance on China

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