France has recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia in protest at being pushed out of a multibillion-dollar submarine deal.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced the diplomatic move on Friday night, saying it came in a request from the French president Emmanuel Macron. This is believed to be the first time France has recalled its US envoy.
Diplomatic relations between the long-standing allies, the United States and France, are in tatters after the announcement earlier this week that Australia would pull out of a contract to have France supply its defence submarines.
US president Joe Biden announced a new pact between the US, the UK, and Australia on Wednesday that included a long-term agreement to build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia – a deal Mr Le Drian called a “stab in the back” for France.
Explaining France’s decision over the recall of their ambassador Philippe Etienne to the US, Mr Le Drian referenced the “exceptional gravity of the announcements”. He also said France would be recalling its ambassador to Canberra, Jean-Pierre Thebault.
France said it was not given sufficient warning of the cancellation of the $90bn submarine contract, which Mr Le Drian called “unacceptable behaviour”.
However, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison claimed he had warned Mr Macron in June that the deal was at risk of collapse because of delays and budgeting problems.
The bitter diplomatic row has escalated dramatically since the announcement of the pact, with France cancelling a gala at its Washington embassy that was planned to celebrate the US-French relationship.
In comments seemingly designed to ease tensions, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Thursday: “We cooperate incredibly closely with France on many shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific but also around the world. We’re going to continue to do so. We place fundamental value on that relationship, on that partnership.”
“France in particular is a vital partner on this, and so many other issues,” he added.
Australia said it regrets France’s decision to recall its ambassador. “We note with regret France’s decision to recall its ambassador to Australia,” a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said in a statement. “Australia values its relationship with France … We look forward to engaging with France again on our many issues of shared interest, based on shared values.”