French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian blasted ‘unacceptable behaviour’ by Washington and Canberra over the Aukus security deal signed with Britain
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France has recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia amid a spiralling diplomatic row over a nuclear-powered submarine deal.
Britain signed up to a defence pact with Washington and Canberra this week to help Australia acquire new subs – which has enraged France,
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the “exceptional decision” to summon its envoys was justified by the “exceptional gravity” of the situation.
He made no mention of recalling the French ambassador to London, but it is unlikely that Britain will avoid the diplomatic fallout.
Boris Johnson unveiled the Aukus military agreement alongside US President Joe Biden and Australian premier Scott Morrison on Wednesday, in what was widely interpreted as a bid to curb China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
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He is reported to have brought both leaders together at the G7 summit in Cornwall in the summer after an approach from Australia.
The US and the UK have agreed to help the Australian navy acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the first time – but this meant the cancellation of a £30bn deal with France to supply conventional diesel-electric submarines to the Australians.
Mr Le Drian said he was acting on the instructions of President Emmanuel Macron.
“This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” he said.
He said their actions constituted “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners, whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe”.
He previously branded the move “a stab in the back”.
The Australian government on Saturday expressed “regret” over France’s decision.
A spokesperson for Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said in a statement: “We note with regret France’s decision to recall its Ambassador to Australia for consultations following the decision on the Attack Class project.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests.
“Australia values its relationship with France, which is an important partner and a vital contributor to stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. This will not change.
“We look forward to engaging with France again on our many issues of shared interest, based on shared values.”
The so-called Aukus defence pact between the UK, US and Australia has been widely seen as an attempt to counter the growing military assertiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Beijing swiftly denounced the initiative as “extremely irresponsible” and a threat to regional peace and stability.
In the Commons on Thursday, Mr Johnson said it was not intended as an “adversarial” move against China or any other power.
He also insisted that relations with France remained “rock solid” while Downing Street described Paris as “a close ally and friend” of the UK.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister also made clear he expected the agreement to bring “hundreds” of highly-skilled jobs to Britain – jobs which may well have otherwise gone to France.