France has recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia amid a backlash over a deal to supply submarines, the French foreign minister says.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement that the rare decision, on request from president Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.
He said the cancellation by Australia of a big contract to buy French conventional submarines in favour of nuclear-powered subs built with US technology is “unacceptable behaviour”.
On Wednesday, the US and Australia – and the UK – announced a new trilateral security partnership under the acronym AUUKUS.
The joint announcement confirmed that the US will provide a nuclear-powered submarine to Canberra, with Australia deciding to abandon its submarine deal with France.
In 2016, Australia selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines.
Le Drian made no mention of recalling the French ambassador to London – suggesting Paris regards the US as the prime movers in the deal.
A recall of ambassadors is highly unusual between allied countries.
In 2019, Paris recalled its envoy to neighbouring Italy after the country’s leaders made critical public comments about the French government.
Last year, France recalled its ambassador to Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Macron needed mental health treatment.
Earlier on Friday, a top French diplomat spoke of a “crisis” in relations with the US.
The diplomat, who spoke anonymously in line with customary government practice, said that for Paris “this is a strategic question concerning the very nature of the relationship between Europe and the United States about the Indo-Pacific strategy”.
He would not speculate on the effects the situation would have on France’s relationship with the US. “There’s a crisis,” he stressed.
Macron has not commented on the issue since President Joe Biden’s announcement of a strategic Indo-Pacific alliance with Australia and Britain.
France has pushed for several years for a European strategy for boosting economic, political and defence ties in the region stretching from India and China to Japan and New Zealand. The EU unveiled this week its plan for the Indo-Pacific.
Le Drian on Thursday expressed “total incomprehension” at the move and criticised both Australia and the US.
“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” he said. “This is not done between allies.”
He also compared Biden’s move to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under Trump’s “America First” doctrine.