US President Joe Biden has requested early talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, France said on Sunday, in an apparent effort to amend barriers after a dispute over a submarine contract sparked rare tensions between allies.
The announcement came after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected French allegations that Canberra had lied about plans to cancel the contract to buy French submarines, saying he had raised concerns about the deal “a few months ago” .
Australia’s decision to break the French deal in favor of US nuclear-powered vessels sparked outrage in Paris, and Macron withdrew France’s ambassadors in Canberra and Washington in an unprecedented move.
But French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Sunday there would be a phone conversation between Biden and Macron “in the next few days” at the request of the US president.
Macron will ask the US president for “clarification” after the announcement of a defense pact between the United States, Australia and Britain that led to Canberra’s cancellation of the huge contract for French diesel-electric vessels.
“We want explanations,” Attal said. The United States had to answer for “what appears to be a great breach of trust.”
Morrison insisted that he and his ministers had made no secret of their problems with the French ships.
“I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and serious concerns,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We made it very clear that we would make a decision based on our strategic national interest.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Saturday had used clearly undiplomatic language toward Australia, the United States and Britain, which is also part of a new three-way security pact announced on Wednesday that led to the rupture.
“There has been lies, duplicity, a great breach of trust and contempt,” Le Drian told France 2 television.
The recall of the ambassadors for the first time in the history of relations with the countries was “to show how unhappy we are and that there is a serious crisis among us.”
The French contract to supply conventional submarines to Australia was worth A $ 50 billion ($ 36.5 billion, € 31 billion) when it was signed in 2016.
Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment, but added: “I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. I never will.”
Defense Minister Peter Dutton also insisted that Canberra had been “direct, open and honest” with Paris about its concerns about the deal, a claim quickly rejected by French Defense Minister Florence Parly.
“Your statement is inaccurate,” he said during a visit to Niger. “We were never informed of Australia’s intentions.”
‘The third wheel’
Le Drian also issued a stinging response to a question about why France had not also called its ambassador to Britain over the AUKUS security pact.
“With Britain, there is no need. We know your constant opportunism. So there is no need to bring our ambassador back to explain,” he said.
On London’s role in the pact, he said: “Britain in all of this is a bit like the third wheel.”
NATO would have to consider what happened while reconsidering strategy at a summit in Madrid next year, he added.
France would now prioritize developing an EU security strategy when it assumes the bloc’s presidency in early 2022, he said.
Meanwhile, a source at the French Defense Ministry said Paris had canceled a meeting scheduled for this week between its Defense Minister Florence Parly and her British counterpart Ben Wallace.
In London, a Defense Ministry source said they could neither confirm nor deny the cancellation of the meeting, but said the two countries maintained a “strong and close defense partnership with France as they remain trusted allies of the United Kingdom. “.
‘Stab in the back’
Biden announced the new Australia-United States-Britain defense alliance, widely seen as aimed at countering the rise of China.
It extends US nuclear submarine technology to Australia, as well as cyber defense, applied artificial intelligence and underwater capabilities.
Le Drian described it as a “backstabbing” and said the Biden administration’s behavior had been comparable to that of Donald Trump, whose sudden changes in policy long exasperated European allies.
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune has hinted that the dispute could affect Australia’s chances of moving towards a trade pact with the EU, which is its third most important trading partner.
For the United States, the dispute has caused a deep rift in its oldest alliance and dashed hopes for a rapid rebirth of relations after Trump.
State Department spokesman Ned Price on Saturday highlighted the “unwavering” commitment of the United States to its alliance with France.
Meanwhile, Australia has shrugged off China’s anger over the nuclear-powered submarine order.
Beijing described the new alliance as an “extremely irresponsible” threat, warning Western allies that they risk “shooting themselves in the foot.”