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'Stabbed in the back,' France says Biden acting like Trump

For 1st time ever, France recalls envoy from US, in anger over nuclear sub deal

Stunning rift between allies as Paris fumes at exclusion from security pact, scrapping of billion-dollar deal to supply Canberra with submarines; envoy to Australia also recalled

In this Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 file photo, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks in Weimar, Germany. France said late Friday, Sept. 17 it was immediately recalling its ambassadors to the US and Australia after Australia scrapped a big French conventional submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology. (Jens Schlueter/Pool Photo via AP, file)
In this Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 file photo, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks in Weimar, Germany. France said late Friday, Sept. 17 it was immediately recalling its ambassadors to the US and Australia after Australia scrapped a big French conventional submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology. (Jens Schlueter/Pool Photo via AP, file)

PARIS (AP) — America’s oldest ally, France, recalled its ambassador to the United States on Friday in an unprecedented show of anger that dwarfed decades of previous rifts.

The relationship conceived in 18th-century revolutions appeared at a tipping point after the US, Australia and Britain shunned France in creating a new Indo-Pacific security arrangement.

It was the first time ever France has recalled its ambassador to the US, according to the French foreign ministry. Paris also recalled its envoy to Australia.

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.

He said Australia’s decision to scrap a big French conventional submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with US technology is “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”

Ambassador Philippe Etienne tweeted the announcements are “directly affecting the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”

In this photo provided by US Navy, the Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Illinois (SSN 786) returns home to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam from a deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility on Sept. 13, 2021.(Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael B. Zingaro/U.S. Navy via AP)

The Biden administration has been in contact with French officials about the decision to recall Etienne to Paris, according to a White House official. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive diplomatic matter, added that the administration regrets that France made the move and is looking to engage with France in the coming days to resolve differences spurred by the US, UK, and Australia security pact.

The decision represents a shocking turnaround for France under the centrist Macron, who — after an increasingly bitter relationship with former President Donald Trump — warmly clasped hands with Biden at a G-7 summit in June and confirmed that “America is back.”

In this Friday, June 11, 2021 file photo, from left, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, U. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen walk together during the G7 Summit, in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, England. (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Macron has not yet commented on the issue. The recall is his boldest foreign policy move yet in a four-year presidency in which he has sought to strengthen France’s diplomatic footprint and role in European policy-making, and to rally France’s neighbors around his vision for a Europe less dependent on the U.S. military umbrella.

France has pushed for several years for a European strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the region stretching from India and China to Japan and New Zealand. The EU this week unveiled its plan for the Indo-Pacific.

For the first time since he came into office in 2017, Macron won’t make a speech to the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly starting next week. Le Drian will instead deliver the French address.

Earlier Friday, a top French diplomat, who spoke anonymously in line with customary government practice, said that Macron received a letter from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday morning announcing the decision to cancel the submarine deal.

French officials then decided to reach out to the US administration “to ask what was going on,” he said. He added that discussions with Washington took place just two to three hours before Biden’s public announcement.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, center, appears on stage with video links to Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden at a joint press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. The leaders are announcing a security alliance that will allow for greater sharing of defense capabilities — including helping equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

Le Drian on Thursday expressed “total incomprehension” at the move and criticized both Australia and the US.

“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” he said. “This is not done between allies.”

He also compared Biden’s move to those of Trump under his “America First” doctrine.

Paris had raised the issue of the Indo-Pacific strategy during the June 25 visit to Paris of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressing the importance of its submarine program with Australia, the French diplomat said.

“We said that it was for us a very important and critical component in our Indo-Pacific strategy,” he said. Blinken met with Macron during the visit.

The French diplomat said Australia never mentioned to France its will to shift to nuclear-powered submarines, including during a meeting between Macron and Morrison in Paris on June 15.

A file photo taken on May 2, 2018 shows French President Emmanuel Macron (2/L) and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (C) standing on the deck of HMAS Waller, a Collins-class submarine operated by the Royal Australian Navy, at Garden Island in Sydney. (Photo by BRENDAN ESPOSITO / POOL / AFP)

A recall of ambassadors is highly unusual between allied countries.

In 2019, Paris recalled its envoy to neighboring Italy after the country’s leaders made critical public comments about the French government. Last year, France recalled its ambassador to Turkey after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Macron needed mental health treatment.

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