Aukus pact: France to send ambassador back to US after Macron-Biden call

US and Australia not going back on cancelled €56bn submarine contract despite talk with French leader

France has agreed to return its ambassador to the US and Joe Biden has vowed not to cut Paris out of key future defence decisions in the Indo-Pacific after a phone call designed to calm French fury after he struck a submarine deal with Australia and the UK behind Emmanuel Macron’s back.

In a joint statement, issued after the phone call ended a five-day standoff between the leaders, the two men agreed to meet in Europe in late October, probably at the G20 summit, to discuss how to improve consultations in future.

Macron said he would dispatch his withdrawn ambassador back to Washington next week, but there was no sign that the US or Australia would go back on their decision to work together on building nuclear-powered submarines, a decision that led Canberra to cancel its €56bn contract for the French to build diesel-based submarines.

Biden instead said the US would be supplying extra help to the French-led anti-terrorist operations in the Sahel. The joint statement also sought to remove any suggestion that the US regarded the independently minded French as unreliable partners in the efforts to constrain China in the Indo-Pacific, the chief unstated purpose of the Aukus pact.

While the text stopped short of an apology and offered no practical remedy, it did concede that the French should have been better consulted, and deserve to be so in the future.

“The two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners. President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard,” the statement said.

It added: “[The] two leaders have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives … President Biden reaffirms the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The meeting in October is being billed as “a chance to reach shared understandings and maintain momentum in this process”.

Although the US and UK have said there was no attempt to exclude France from defence operations in the Indo-Pacific, the secrecy surrounding the pact and some of the rhetoric in its announcement left a strong sense that the three countries regarded their English-speaking alliance as the core to the US’s strategy against China.

A French government spokesperson before the call said it would be a chance to clarify the way in which the announcement was made and how the US could re-engage in its relationship with an ally.

France last week said it had been stabbed in the back by the US and described Biden’s treatment of his European partners as reminiscent of Donald Trump.

Biden, who promised relentless diplomacy in his speech to the UN general assembly on Tuesday, had been seeking to speak to Macron since the weekend. The Élysée withdrew its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra on Friday for consultation, in a signal of deep anger over the month-long secrecy surrounding the security pact that France feels deprives it of a valuable defence contract and undercuts the main pillar of its carefully established Indo-Pacific strategy.

Washington appeared to have been taken aback by France’s fury but recognised it needed to find a way to contain a row that risked damaging Biden’s reputation in Europe.

Catching the tone of anger in France, Bernard Guetta, a Macronist MEP, described Biden’s sidelining of France as “a blunder, amounting to a strategic blindness that will only benefit the Chinese”.

The French government also issued a statement denying a front-page report in the Daily Telegraph suggesting Macron was discussing giving up France’s seat on the UN security council to the EU.

In denying the report, the French government described the Telegraph, a paper that the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, used to write for, as an “English tabloid”.

Additional reporting by Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

Contributor

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Biden admits to Macron the US was ‘clumsy’ in Aukus submarine deal
American president moves to repair relationship after France was blindsided by security pact

Patrick Wintour in Rome Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Julian Borger in Washington

29, Oct, 2021 @5:06 PM

Article image
Aukus: Australia sent ‘extremely satisfied’ letter hours before axing French contract
French Naval Group to invoice Australia for abruptly cancelling submarine contract, says CEO

Daniel Hurst in Canberra, Angelique Chrisafis and Kim Willsher in Paris

23, Sep, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
US has ‘no closer ally than Australia’, Biden says after Aukus pact
US president and Australian PM welcome new security ties after deal that has infuriated France

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

21, Sep, 2021 @6:32 PM

Article image
Macron warns against inflammatory words after Biden’s Putin remark
French president cautions against verbal escalations after US is forced to deny it is seeking regime change

Sam Jones

27, Mar, 2022 @1:56 PM

Article image
Macron plays down expectations as he arrives for Ukraine talks with Putin – as it happened
Emmanuel Macron says he does not ‘believe in spontaneous miracles’ as he arrives for talks with Vladimir Putin

Jennifer Rankin

07, Feb, 2022 @5:06 PM

Article image
France recalls ambassadors to US and Australia after Aukus pact
First time France has recalled a US ambassador in alliance dating back to American revolution

Kim Willsher in Paris

17, Sep, 2021 @9:11 PM

Article image
Biden warns US will hit back if Russia continues with cyber strikes
US president hails ‘good and positive’ talks but added ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’

Andrew Roth in Geneva and Luke Harding

16, Jun, 2021 @7:51 PM

Article image
Macron yet to take call from Australia’s Scott Morrison over sub snub
Australian PM hopes to speak with French president ‘when the time is right and the opportunity presents’

Daniel Hurst

23, Sep, 2021 @12:49 AM

Article image
Is China stepping up its ambition to supplant US as top superpower?
Analysis: Joe Biden has cleared the decks to focus on China. But how imminent is the danger?

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

22, Sep, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
UK-France defence summit cancelled in Aukus row
Paris furious at scrapping of Australian submarine contract and new three-way technology pact

Dan Sabbagh, Julian Borger and Heather Stewart

19, Sep, 2021 @5:47 PM