In a statement, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, said on Friday that this decision had been taken at the request of President Emmanuel Macron.
“This extraordinary decision reflects the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” said Le Drian. “The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project that Australia and France had been working on since 2016 and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States to explore the possibility of future cooperation on nuclear submarines constitute unacceptable behavior between allies and partners; their consequences affect the very conception we have of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.
It is believed to be the first time the French have resorted to such a move in modern times, a French official told CNN.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with France’s Defense Minister on Friday morning, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a briefing.
Kirby said it was clear that there was “still a lot of work to be done in terms of defense relations with France” after the meeting between the two leaders. Kirby clarified, “I mean more things to work on, that there are common opportunities and challenges and common interests that the two ministers are committed to continuing to explore. “
“Ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific is a shared interest between the United States and Europe, and we will continue our close partnership with NATO, the EU and other partners on this type of effort,” Kirby said.
National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said the White House was in contact with the French government over the decision to recall its envoy to Washington for consultation in Paris.
“We understand their position and will continue to engage in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other times during our long alliance. 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 work together to meet global challenges ”,
The French government said earlier this week it felt betrayed when Australia withdrew from its existing multibillion-dollar defense deal, agreeing instead to acquire nuclear-powered submarines in part of a new agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom.
French Housing Minister Emmanuelle Wargon said on Saturday that France was still “awaiting explanations” on the issue. Speaking on FranceInfo radio, she said the ambassador’s recall was a wake-up call and a necessary reaction to events that “should not happen between allies”.
“The breach of this contract is a thunderclap and a very hard blow,” she said. “We need to have discussions so that these allies can make their case so that we understand and so that we can then take all the necessary measures. “
The effort to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines – a major step in the fight against China as President Joe Biden strives to build international support for his approach to Beijing – is part of a new trilateral partnership between the United States, Australia and the United States. Kingdom, nicknamed “AUKUS”.
France risks losing the equivalent of US $ 65 billion from an existing deal to supply Australia with conventional diesel-powered submarines.
The canceled deal with France, a major global arms exporter, is expected to have a significant economic impact on the French defense sector. France is also strategically losing in the Indo-Pacific, where the country holds important interests.
On Thursday, following the announcement of the nuclear submarine deal with the United States and the United Kingdom, Australia officially announced that it would be withdrawing from its previous contract for conventional submarines with the France.
The agreement with Paris had been in preparation for years.
Australia previously planned to acquire 12 conventional attack-class submarines from French shipbuilder Naval Group, which successfully beat competing German and Japanese tenders in 2016.
Jean-Pierre Thébault, French Ambassador to Australia, said on Saturday “very sad to have been forced to leave”.
“I am always confident in Franco-Australian, Australian-French cooperation. I think this was a huge mistake. Very, very poor management of the partnership because it was not a contract, it was a partnership, ”said Thebault. when leaving his residence.
“Real Australians, people who understand what it means to be friends, what it means to look behind your back is the most important thing to me. So I can’t wait to be back because it will be a good sign that something can be done, ”he added.
U.S. officials defended the deal on Friday, and Americans and Australians said the French government was not blinded by the cancellation of the original contract, saying senior French officials had been made aware of the government’s decision. Australian.
A senior administration official also said senior U.S. officials communicated with their counterparts in France about the new deal before and after its announcement. “I’ll leave it to our Australian partners to describe why they researched this new technology,” added the manager.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton told a press conference on Thursday that the decision to choose the US nuclear submarine over the French conventional diesel submarine “is based on what is in the best interest of our national security ”.
Biden’s attempt to thread the needle of European diplomacy and navigate a post-Brexit world has left staunch allies suggesting that Biden’s actions ignored their needs or were in line with those of his pro-nationalist predecessor , former President Donald Trump.
Before recalling the French ambassador, Le Drian, in response to the agreement, had strong words for the United States, declaring: “This brutal and one-sided decision is very similar to what Trump is doing.”
Biden is due to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson next week at the White House, two officials confirmed to CNN on Thursday. And several foreign leaders are expected to travel to the United States for the United Nations Annual General Assembly in New York next week, but many leaders coming to the United States for the assembly are still waiting to see if they will have sessions. with the president.
This story has been updated with additional details Saturday.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz, Kevin Liptak, Ellie Kaufman, Joseph Ataman and Donald Judd contributed to this report.