France seeks European support after surprise over submarine deal

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French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault arrives at Sydney Airport on Saturday, September 18, 2021. Thebault called Australia’s surprise cancellation of a major sub-contract a “huge mistake”. sailors in favor of an American agreement, in an unprecedented show of anger among the allies. (AP Photo / David Gray)

PA

France has canceled meetings with British and Australian officials and is trying to rally EU allies to its campaign for more European sovereignty after being humiliated by the great Pacific defense pact orchestrated by the United States

Australia and Britain insisted on Monday that the diplomatic crisis would not affect their long-term relationship with France, which is bubbling over from a surprise strategic submarine deal involving the United States, Australia and Great Britain which sank a rival French submarine contract.

France has recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for the first time over the deal, and its anger shows little sign of abating.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in New York to represent France at the UN General Assembly, is expected to give a press conference on Monday to address the situation. He is also meeting with the foreign ministers of the other 26 countries of the European Union in New York, where he will discuss the consequences of the agreement on submarines and France’s vision for a more strategically independent Europe.

“This is not just a Franco-Australian affair, but a breach of confidence in the alliances,” Le Drian told the French newspaper Ouest-France. “It calls for serious reflection on the very concept of what we do with alliances.”

Le Drian said he canceled a meeting with his Australian counterpart in New York “for obvious reasons”.

Le Drian said he did not have a meeting scheduled with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken while at the UN, but could “run into him in the halls.”

As US President Joe Biden welcomes Australian and British leaders this week, he will not see French President Emmanuel Macron, who will not attend the UN Macron remains in France and is expected to meet with Biden in the coming days about the submarine. crisis, according to the French government.

The submarine deal, known as AUKUS, will see Australia cancel a contract to purchase French diesel-electric submarines and instead acquire nuclear-powered ships from the United States. The United States, Australia and Britain say the deal strengthens their engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, and has been widely seen as a move to counter an increasingly assertive China.

The French government appears to have been taken aback by the deal and believes its own strategic interests in the Pacific – thanks to its territories and military presence there – have been ignored by key allies.

The French Defense Minister canceled a meeting with her British counterpart this week.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, insisted that Britain’s relations with France are “ineradicable”. It is not something that nobody has to worry about and especially not our French friends.

British officials highlighted the strong military ties between the UK and France, including joint operations in Mali and Estonia.

In Australia, officials have said France’s anger will not derail negotiations on an Australia-EU free trade deal.

French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault denied reports that France was pressuring the EU not to sign the trade agreement with Australia which has been under negotiation since 2018 .

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he would be traveling to Paris in a few weeks for trade talks and was “very keen to get in touch with my French counterpart“.

“I see no reason why these talks will not continue,” Tehan said.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, said on Monday it was analyzing the deal’s impact on Australian submarines.

Australia argues that the submarine deal was meant to protect its strategic interests amid widespread concern over China’s growing assertiveness.

“I can understand how upset the French are and we obviously want this to pass and we want to work closely together again. But let us remember, tens of thousands of Australians died on French soil during two world wars protecting France in France and protecting France from the enemy who was going to invade France ”, declared the Deputy Prime Minister. Australian Minister Barnaby Joyce.

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