Aukus pact: Emmanuel Macron to demand ‘clarifications’ from Joe Biden

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, was expected to speak on the phone on Wednesday with Joe Biden to demand the US president explain why he went behind France’s back to seal a security pact with Australia and the UK that voids the former’s €56bn submarine contract with France.

The central part of the Aukus pact is the requirement for Australia to cancel its contract to buy 12 French barracuda submarines with diesel-electric propulsion. America will instead partner with Australia and the UK to build nuclear-powered submarines.

The French government spokesperson said Wednesday’s call would be a chance to clarify the way in which this announcement was made and how the US could re-engage in its relationship with an ally.

Macron is expecting “clarifications about the American decision to keep a European ally outside fundamental talks about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” Gabriel Attal added, making clear that French anger remained 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.”

Macron’s office said the French president expected “clarifications and clear commitments” from the US president, and that the call was to discuss “the crisis of trust” that led to the unprecedented recall of the French ambassador to the US last week.

Macron expected “clarifications on the American choice to keep a European ally away from key exchanges on an Indo-Pacific cooperation,” the Élysée said.

Paris is calling for “acts, not only words,” including on “the full recognition by our American ally of the need to strengthen European sovereignty and the importance for Europeans to have greater involvement in their defence and security,” the Élysée continued.

France has already said it has 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, has been seeking to speak to Macron since the weekend. On Friday, the Élysée withdrew its ambassadors to Washington and Canberra for consultation, in a signal of deep anger over the month-long secrecy surrounding the security pact.

France feels the move not only deprives it of a valuable defence contract, but undercuts the main pillar of its carefully established Indo-Pacific strategy. The secrecy with which the US negotiated the alternative deal for nuclear-propelled submarines has left France shocked, but also strengthened the hand of those that insist the EU must rely on itself more for its own defence and security.

There has been no let-up in the French anger that has extended to threatening to delay an EU-US trade deal.

Washington seems to have been taken aback by France’s fury, but knows it needs to find a way to contain a row that risks damaging Biden’s reputation in Europe.

The French foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, also cancelled a meeting planned for Wednesday between the foreign ministers of Britain, France, the US and Germany. Scheduling difficulties were cited but the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said the meeting was abandoned due to “disgruntlement on the French side, which I can understand, and that some things there first need to be straightened out before we can sit together in this format”.

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”.

A meeting between foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN security council, organised by the UK, is due to go ahead.

The meeting, likely to focus on Afghanistan and humanitarian aid, will be the first chance for Liz Truss, the UK foreign secretary, to meet Le Drian since her appointment and the security row broke out.

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 UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, used to write for, as an “English tabloid”.

Additional reporting by Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

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