PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron will speak in the coming days with President Joe Biden in their first contact since a major diplomatic crisis erupted between France and the United States over a submarine deal with Australia, an official said Sunday.
The phone call is at the request of Biden, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, adding that there was “shock” and “anger” at first in France over news of the deal. 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 $66 billion between France and Australia to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines. Instead, Australia signed on with the United States and Britain for eight nuclear-powered submarines. France insists it was not informed of the deal in advance.
France recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia in a sign of the seriousness of the crisis.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met Sunday with the two ambassadors to discuss “the strategic consequences of the current crisis,” the ministry said without elaborating.
“What’s at play in this affair, this crisis … are strategic issues before being commercial issues,” 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 United States reflects the American pivot toward the Indo-Pacific region, seen as increasingly strategic as China bolsters its influence there. Yet 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 the French 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 spokesman added. “There was a moment of shock, of anger ... Now, we must advance.”
On Friday night, Le Drian railed against what France views as a betrayal marked by “duplicity, disdain and lies” in the submarine affair.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 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 Australia's strategic interests.