France has recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia in a backlash over a new security partnership.
The country’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made the announcement following the deal between the UK, US and Australia – which aims to help Australia obtain nuclear-powered submarines.
Mr Le Drian said in a statement that the decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by the two countries.
He said the cancellation by Australia of a big contract to buy French conventional submarines in favour of nuclear-powered subs built with US technology is “unacceptable behaviour”.
A White House official has said the US regrets France’s decision to recall its ambassador and has been in contact with French partners.
They added that the US will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve the differences between the two countries.
A recall of ambassadors is highly unusual between allied countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron has not commented on the issue since his US counterpart Joe Biden’s announcement of a strategic Indo-Pacific alliance with Australia and Britain, leading France to lose a nearly $100bn (£72.8bn) deal to build diesel-electric submarines.
Nuclear-powered submarines are superior to their diesel counterparts as they can operate more quietly and stay underwater for longer.
Also on Friday, a top French diplomat spoke anonymously of a “crisis” in relations with the US.
He said that for Paris “this is a strategic question concerning the very nature of the relationship between Europe and the United States about the Indo-Pacific strategy”.
He added that Australia never mentioned to France its wish to shift to nuclear-powered submarines, including during a meeting between Mr Macron and its Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The French diplomat said that Mr Macron received a letter from Mr Morrison on Wednesday morning announcing the decision to cancel the submarine deal.
The AUKUS deal will see Australia scrap its 2016 agreement with French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new fleet to replace its ageing Collins submarines.
“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do,” foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on franceinfo radio at the time.
“I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies,” he said.
“It’s a stab in the back. We created a relationship of trust with Australia and that trust has been broken,” he added.
On Thursday, the US said it stands in “unshakeable alliance with Australia” – after China said the new partnership “intensifies the arms race”.
The “landmark” partnership aims to boost defences in the UK, US and Australia and share nuclear submarine secrets at a time of growing concern over China.
China has condemned the agreement saying the Western powers’ cooperation in nuclear submarines “severely damages regional peace and stability” and “jeopardises the international efforts in promoting the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons”.
London, Canberra and Washington have said they will seek to collaborate in cyber, quantum technologies and artificial intelligence, as well as other underwater capabilities.