France’s Emmanuel Macron to speak with Joe Biden amid crisis over submarines

Paris feels it’s time to try to move forward, a government spokesman said

French President Emmanuel Macron.  AFP
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French President Emmanuel Macron will speak in coming days with US President Joe Biden in their first contact since a major diplomatic crisis erupted over a submarine deal with Australia, an official said on Sunday.

The call is at the request of Mr Biden, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.

Mr Attal said there had been “shock” and “anger” at news of Australia dumping a $66 billion French submarine contract after being offered eight nuclear subs as part of Aukus, a defence alliance with the US and UK.

France insists it was not told the news in advance. The 2016 contract between Canberra and Paris was to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.

But Mr Attal said it was now time to try to move forward.

France recalled its ambassadors from the US and Australia in a sign of the seriousness of the crisis.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday met the two ambassadors to discuss “the strategic consequences of the current crisis", the ministry said.

“What’s at play in this affair, this crisis … are strategic issues before being commercial issues,” Mr Attal told BFMTV.

“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 priority towards the Indo-Pacific region as China strengthens its influence there.

But France feels the move hampers it in a region where it has long had a strong presence, which it was also trying to further bolster.

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

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

Mr Macron will be seeking explanations from Mr Biden about what led to a “major rupture in confidence", Mr Attal said.

On Friday night, Mr Le Drian condemned what France regards as a betrayal marked by “duplicity, disdain and lies” in the submarine affair.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said France “would have had every reason to know that we have deep and grave concerns” about the capability of France’s Attack-class submarines.

Mr Morrison said the vessels could not meet Australia’s strategic interests.

Updated: September 20, 2021, 4:52 AM