US President Joe Biden and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron are to speak later on Wednesday by telephone for the first time since a row erupted over the sale of submarines to Australia, the French government spokesman said.
France recalled its ambassadors from the US and Australia last week after the US and Britain signed a nuclear-powered submarines deal with Australia, causing Canberra to scrap a previous $66 billion French-designed submarine deal.
Paris was outraged that Australia negotiated with Washington and London in secret behind its back, which French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has denounced as “treachery” and a “stab in the back”.
The call between Macron and Biden would be an opportunity to “clarify both the way in which this announcement was made and the way for an American re-engagement in its relationship with an ally”, spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a French cabinet meeting.
French officials were notified about the loss of the contract just hours before Biden unveiled the new so-called AUKUS security and defence partnership between the three English-speaking countries.
Macron is expecting “clarification about the American decision to keep a European ally outside of fundamental talks about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”, Attal added, making clear that French anger remains unabated.
“We expect our allies to acknowledge that the exchanges and consultations that should have taken place did not, and that this poses a question about confidence, which all of us need to draw conclusions about now.”
The timing of the call between Biden and Macron, a week since the row began, was also intended to send a further message of French discontent.
The US administration had let it be known on Sunday that the 78-year-old president was seeking a conversation, but that Macron was in no hurry to pick up the phone.
‘A constant feature of French foreign policy’
The row has plunged ties into what some analysts view as the most acute crisis since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Paris opposed.
After four years of tumultuous relations with former president Donald Trump, the spat has dashed hopes of a complete reset of Franco-US ties under the Biden administration, which took office in January.
Macron, 43, and Biden met for the first time in person in June at a summit of G7 countries in Cornwall, southwest England, where they were seen smiling broadly together.
Gilles Gressani, president of the Groupe d’Etudes Geopolitiques thinktank, said this week that showdowns with the US are “a constant feature of French foreign policy”.
But he added that “the intensity of (France’s) reaction is striking”.
A ‘wake up call’
France’s European allies meanwhile have rallied around Paris, but some warned the dispute should not torpedo trade talks.
German Europe Minister Michael Roth on Tuesday said France’s diplomatic crisis with the US was a “wake-up call for all of us” on the importance of uniting an often divided EU on foreign and security policy.
The show of solidarity from Germany and the EU’s top officials was welcomed by France, which said the breakdown of trust with Washington strengthened the case for Europe to set its own strategic course.
France’s minister for European affairs Clément Beaune called the row “a European issue” not simply a French one, as he arrived at ministerial talks in Brussels, with the chaotic US pullout from Afghanistan in August also a source of irritation among EU members.
“I don’t think France is overreacting and I don’t think France should overreact. But when a situation … is serious, I think it’s also our responsibility to state it very clearly,” he said.
EU Council chief Charles Michel said he had a “frank, direct and lively exchange on AUKUS” with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
EU internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, warned there was a growing feeling “that something is broken” in Europe’s ties with Washington.
“So it is probably time to pause and reset our EU-US relationship,” he said in a speech in Washington.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)