America’s oldest ally, France, took an extraordinary step on Friday September 17, recalling its ambassador to the United States and Australia.
The relationship between the US and France conceived in 18th century revolutions us now at a tipping point after the U.S. Australia and Britain shunned France in creating a new Indo-Pacific security arrangement that involved Australia dumping its previous agreement to buy diesel powered submarines from France in favor of buying better more equiped nuclear powered submarines from the US and the UK to counter growing threats from China.
It is the first time ever that France has recalled its ambassador to the U.S., according to the French foreign ministry. Paris also recalled its envoy to Australia.
France Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a written statement that the French 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 Australia’s decision to scrap a big French conventional submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology is “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”
Ambassador Philippe Etienne tweeted the announcements are “directly affecting the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”
In response to the move, the Biden administration said it has been in close contact with French officials about the decision to recall Etienne to Paris, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said.
“We understand their position and will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance,” she said in a statement.
“France is our oldest ally and one of our strongest partners, and we share a long history of shared democratic values and a commitment to working together to address global challenges.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price also stressed the value the U.S. places on its relationship with France and expressed hope that talks between the two sides will continue in the coming days, including at the United Nations General Assembly next week.
But in another twist, Macron, won’t be making a speech to the annual meeting of world leaders. Le Drian will instead deliver the French address.
This is the first time this will occur since Macron came into office in 2017.
The Australian government said it regretted France’s decision to recall its ambassador to that nation.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office said in a statement.
It added that Australia valued its relationship with France and looked forward to future engagements together.
Macron’s decision to recall his ambassadors to the US is a shocking turnaround given that he welcomed Joe Biden’s presidency after having a bitter relationship with former President Donald Trump.
The recall is his boldest foreign policy move yet in his four-year presidency
Earlier Friday, a top French diplomat, who spoke anonymously, said that Macron received a letter from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday morning announcing the decision to cancel the submarine deal.
French officials then decided to reach out to the U.S. administration “to ask what was going on,” he said. He added that discussions with Washington took place just two to three hours before Biden announced the deal with Australia.
Le Drian expressed “total incomprehension” at the move and criticized both Australia and the U.S.
“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.”