France’s Macron to talk to Biden amid crisis over submarines

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Greece EU Med Summit (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Greece EU Med Summit (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, will speak in the coming days with Joe Biden in what will be their first contact since a major diplomatic crisis erupted between France and the US over a submarine deal with Australia, an official said on Sunday.

The phone call is at the request of the US president, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said, adding that there was “shock” and “anger” at first.

But now it's time to try to move forward, he said.

What the French now call a “grave crisis” erupted over the sudden, surprise end to a 2016 contract worth at least $66bn (£48bn) between France and Australia to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.

Instead, Australia signed on with the US and UK for eight nuclear-powered submarines – and France insists it was not informed of the deal in advance.

The nation recalled its ambassadors from the US and Australia as a sign of the seriousness of the crisis.

“What’s at play in this affair, this crisis … are strategic issues before being commercial issues,” Attal said. “The question is ... the forces present, the balance, in the Indo-Pacific where part of our future is at play, and our relations with China.”

The deal by the US reflects the American pivot toward the Indo-Pacific region, seen as increasingly strategic as China bolsters its influence there.

But France feels the deal steps on its feet in a region where it has long had a strong presence that it, too, is working to bolster, in addition to a five-year contract with Australia.

“France is a country of the Indo-Pacific,” Attal said, noting the French territory of New Caledonia, the French citizens living in the region and military forces based there.

The Indo-Pacific is also an issue for Europe, he said.

Macron will be seeking explanations from Biden about what led to a “major rupture in confidence,” the spokesperson added. “There was a moment of shock, of anger ... Now, we must advance.”

On Friday night, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian railed against what France views as a betrayal marked by “duplicity, disdain and lies”.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday that France “would have had every reason to know that we have deep and grave concerns” about the capability of France’s attack class subs, which he said can't meet its strategic interests.

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