The United States admitted on Thursday that it had only given France a few hours in advance of its agreement to supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, a move that French authorities denounced as a major betrayal by one of his closest allies.
France had tried to strike its own multibillion-dollar deal with Australia, and French officials said the new deal, which Biden announced at the White House on Wednesday with the virtual accession of Australian leaders and British, was an affront.
President Biden’s national security adviser informed France on Wednesday morning that the United States had reached a deal with Australia, revealing the plan to France’s top diplomat in Washington the same day Mr. Biden handed it over. public, a senior US official said Thursday. The person requested anonymity to discuss the diplomatic talks.
The degree of anger of the French recalled the acrimony between Paris and Washington in 2003 over the war in Iraq and implied a new language since then. “This is not done between allies,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with Franceinfo, describing the agreement as “a unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision”.
French officials have described the exclusion of NATO member France from the new Anglo-Australian-American military partnership as a moment that will deepen an already growing rift between long-standing allies. President Emmanuel Macron has already declared that he intends to pursue France’s “strategic autonomy” vis-à-vis the United States.
But even as US officials scrambled to respond to French anger, they dismissed the idea of a serious breakup. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters that the United States had informed the French before the president’s announcement but was under no obligation to include the country in its agreement with the ‘Australia and Great Britain.
“This is not the only global commitment or global cooperative partnership that the United States has in the world,” she said. She added that the United States and France will continue to be partners in several other ways, noting that “the French are members of the G-7”.
Yet the lack of consultation – and the last-minute revelation – infuriated French officials in Washington, who angrily canceled a gala at their embassy in Washington on Thursday to protest what they called a reckless political move and sudden that resembled those of former President Donald. J. Trump.
When asked what Mr. Biden thought about being compared to Mr. Trump, Ms. Psaki replied, “The president doesn’t think much about it.”
The gala was to commemorate the “240th anniversary of the Battle of the Caps”, celebrating the aid of the French navy in a 1781 battle during the struggle for independence from the United States.
Philippe Étienne, French ambassador to the United States and host of the party, said on Thursday that he had been informed of the agreement through press articles, followed by a call from Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser by Mr. Biden.
A senior US official said the Biden administration had made efforts to inform the French government of the president’s announcement earlier Wednesday morning, but was unable to schedule talks with his French counterparts before the publication of information online.
The indignation of MM. Étienne and Le Drian reflected the fact that France had its own agreement with Australia, concluded in 2016, for conventional submarines that were less technologically sophisticated. That $ 66 billion deal is now gone, but a tough legal battle for the contract seems inevitable.
“A knife in the back,” Le Drian said of the Australian move, noting that Australia rejected a strategic partnership agreement involving “a lot of technology transfers and a 50-year contract.”
French officials in Washington accused senior US officials of withholding information about the deal despite repeated attempts by French diplomats, who suspected something was underway, to find out more.
Mr Étienne, one of France’s most experienced diplomats, admitted in an interview on Thursday that there had been discussions with the Australians over increasing the price of the submarines that France was supposed to deliver to the Australia – which were not nuclear powered, even though France has its own fleet of nuclear powered submarines.
At the start of the summer, the French government refused to sign documents committing to move to the next phase of the deal, apparently because of price disputes. But Etienne said the deal was more than just a defense contract.
“We have strengths in this region,” he said of France, noting that it has led missions in the Pacific, and strategic plans to increase France’s presence. “We take it very seriously. He added: “It was not just a commercial contract.” He called it “an essential part of our overall strategy for the Indo-Pacific”.
Ms Psaki said that “French leadership at the top and bottom of the ranks will continue to be an important partner for the United States”, and she suggested that the work of the two countries to seek security in the Pacific would not be compromise due to the tensions around the submarine. deal with Australia.
“We are cooperating closely with France,” she said. “As the President said yesterday, we have a set of common priorities in the Indo-Pacific, and that will certainly continue. We don’t see this, on our side, as a regional divide.”
Zolan Kanno-Youngs and David E. Sanger contributed reports.