France started a diplomatic war over the latest nuclear submarine deal between Australia, UK and the US by dismissing Boris Johnson as an opportunist.
President Emmanuel Macron triggered a diplomatic storm by recalling his ambassadors to the US and Australia over the deal, dubbed by the French media as an 'Indo-Pacific Trafalgar'.
Mr Macron was outraged by the announcement last week of the Aukus alliance, which will see Australia given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines to counter China's influence in the contested South China Sea.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a written statement that the French decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.https://t.co/YQovlRWJZ8— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) September 17, 2021
The deal – which the French were told about only a few hours in advance – scuppered a separate multibillion-dollar agreement over submarines that Paris had signed with Canberra.
It comes as new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss launched a strong defence of the UK's security pact with the US and Australia, saying it was a 'hard-headed' move to defend the national interest.
In escalation over submarine deal, France recalls envoys from U.S. and Australia. ‘The rare decision taken by French President Emmanuel Macron was made due to the seriousness of the matter, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.’https://t.co/9Qjr9QoNm5— Kirsty Needham (@KirstyLNeedham) September 18, 2021
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the 'exceptional decision' to recall France's ambassadors had been made by Mr Macron because of the 'exceptional gravity' of the situation.
Mr Le Drian aid his country was fully justified in recalling its Ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. But when asked on the France 2 radio station why the ambassador to London had not been recalled, Mr Le Drian suggested there was no need.
France was familiar with Britain's 'permanent opportunism' said Mr Le Drian and said Mr Johnson was a 'fifth wheel on the carriage' – meaning he was a 'spare wheel' in the deal.
Such language will put huge strain on relations between Britain and France – which are already under severe stress over such issues as migrant boats arriving in England from the Calais area.
Mr Le Drian said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had told him about the ripping up of the submarines contract just an hour before the new Aukus deal was announced on live TV in Australia on Wednesday.
'That's why I say there has been duplicity, contempt and lies and when you have an ally of the stature of France, you don't treat them like this,' said Mr Le Drian.
Asked if there had been a failure of French intelligence in failing to find out about the Aukus deal in advance, Mr Le Drian said: 'The project initiated by the US and Australia was decided by a small group and I'm not sure US and Australian ministers knew about it.
'When we see the US president with the Australian prime minister announcing a new agreement, along with Boris Johnson, the breach of trust is profound. In a real alliance you talk to each other, you don't hide things, you respect the other party and that is why this is a real crisis.'
Lord Peter Ricketts, Britain's former Ambassador to France, said the country sees Britain as 'accomplices' in the deal but that may not stop further repercussions.
In the French media, US President Joe Biden took most of the blame. 'Submarines: Biden torpedoes the Contract of the Century between France and Australia,' ran the headline in Le Figaro, adding that it was the equivalent of an 'Indo-Pacific Trafalgar'.
Aides to Mr Le Drian later said he had meant that Britain was the 'fifth wheel' in the new Aukus security pact, and not Mr Johnson in particular.
Mr Le Drian also used the live broadcast to say that the row had turned into a full-blown 'crisis'.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.