Biden, France’s Macron to Talk in Coming Days Amid Sub Spat
(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron will speak by phone in the next few days as the French president seeks “clarification” about a deal that saw Paris lose its multibillion-dollar submarine contract with Australia.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on BFM TV that Biden had requested the meeting.
“What’s at stake in this crisis is the strategy (in the Pacific), which is more important than the commercial considerations,” Attal said. “This is what we’ll be discussing.”
France on Friday said it was recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia in a diplomatic move intended to convey its anger over the submarine deal forged in secrecy, which effectively sinks Australia’s 2016 pact with French shipbuilder Naval Group for as many as 12 diesel-powered submarines worth some $65 billion. Macron was set to meet with France’s ambassador to Washington on Sunday night.
Instead, Australia will buy nuclear-powered subs with U.S. and U.K. technology as part of a new Indo-Pacific security partnership.
The plan was unveiled as the Biden administration pushes allies to counter Chinese assertiveness.
While France and the U.S. have at times been at odds, including over the Iraq War in 2003, Paris has never gone so far as to remove its envoy to Washington, according to senior French diplomats.
Separately, the U.K.’s new foreign secretary, Liz Truss, wrote Sunday that the security pact with the U.S. and Australia that helped trigger the rift is a sign of the country’s determination to defend “freedoms” and advance its global interests.
“It shows our readiness to be hard-headed in defending our interests and challenging unfair practices and malign acts,” Truss wrote in a letter published in the Telegraph on Sunday. “It also shows our commitment to security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The U.K. plans to work with its partners to use a wide range of cutting-edge technologies -- nuclear-powered submarines followed by measures including artificial intelligence and quantum computing, Truss wrote. She said her planned visit to the United Nations General Assembly this week “is the start of an autumn where global Britain plants its flag on the world stage.”
Asked why the British ambassador wasn’t recalled, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France 2 television on Saturday that there was no need because France is familiar with Britain’s “opportunism,” calling the U.K. a “fifth wheel” in the defense deal.
Australia defended its decision to abandon the earlier pact, which politicians there have complained about for cost overruns and delays.
France has been aware of Canberra’s concerns about the capability of the submarines it was building for Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday. Morrison and Macron discussed the issue in June.
“This was a decision about whether the submarines that were being built at great cost to the Australian taxpayer were going to be able to do a job that we needed it to do,” Morrison told reporters.
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