France seeks European support in submarine deal dispute

20 September 2021, 15:44

Australia Submarines
Australia Submarines. Picture: PA

Australia and the UK insisted the diplomatic crisis would not affect their longer-term relations with France.

France has cancelled meetings with British and Australian officials and is trying to rally EU allies behind its push for more European sovereignty after being humiliated by a major Pacific defence pact orchestrated by the US.

Australia and Britain insisted on Monday that the diplomatic crisis would not affect their longer-term relations with France, which is seething over a surprise, strategic submarine deal involving the US, Australia and Britain that sank a rival French contract.

France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia for the first time because of the deal, and its anger is showing few signs of subsiding.

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in New York to represent France at the UN General Assembly, is expected to give a news conference to address the situation.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden (Phil Noble/PA)

He is also meeting foreign ministers from the other 26 European Union nations in New York, where he will discuss the consequences of the submarine deal and France’s vision for a more strategically independent Europe.

“It’s not just a Franco-Australian affair, but a rupture of trust in alliances,” Mr Le Drian was quoted as saying in the French newspaper Ouest-France. “It calls for serious reflection about the very concept of what we do with alliances.”

He said he had cancelled a meeting with his Australian counterpart in New York “for obvious reasons”. They had been scheduled to meet the Indian foreign minister, but instead it will be a France-India meeting alone.

Mr Le Drian said he has no meeting scheduled with US secretary of state Antony Blinken while he’s at the UN, but might “pass him in the hallways”.

While US President Joe Biden is hosting the Australian and British leaders this week, he will not see French President Emmanuel Macron, who is not traveling to the UN.

Mr Macron is staying in France and is expected to talk with Mr Biden in the coming days about the submarine crisis, according to the French government.

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron (Brian Lawless/PA)

The submarine deal, known as Aukus, will see Australia cancel a contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and instead acquire nuclear-powered vessels from the US.

The US, Australia and the UK say the deal bolsters their commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and has widely been seen as a move to counter an increasingly assertive China.

The French government appears to have been blindsided by the agreement, and feels its own strategic interests in the Pacific — thanks to its territories and military presence there — were ignored by major allies.

France’s defence minister cancelled a meeting with her British counterpart this week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted that Britain’s relationship with France is “ineradicable”.

Speaking on his way to New York, he said: “Aukus is not in any way meant to be zero-sum, it’s not meant to be exclusionary. It’s not something that anybody needs to worry about and particularly not our French friends.”

By Press Association

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