Biden administration climate envoy John Kerry told a French media outlet Monday that President Joe Biden was not “aware” that excluding France from a trilateral arms transaction last month would alienate the country’s oldest ally.
In September, Biden signed a deal with Australia and the U.K. that will provide the country’s Pacific ally nuclear-powered submarines as tensions with China continue to rise.
The New York Times first reported last month that with nuclear technology available to it, the Australian government backed out of a deal with France to spend $66 billion on French-built conventional submarines to bolster its security.
Then, the U.S. and U.K. swooped in without taking into account the deal between France and Australia, which had been in the works for years.
The deal cost the French tens of billions of dollars and its trust of some longtime allies.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the decision to offer Australia’s navy the submarines a “unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision,” the Times reported, while in comments reported by Politico he called the deal a “stab in the back.”
In a statement reported by CNN, Le Drian called the exclusion of France in the deal “unacceptable behavior among allies and partners.”
“This extraordinary decision reflects the exceptional seriousness of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” he said.
“The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project that Australia and France had been working on since 2016 and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States aimed at studying the possibility of future cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines constitute unacceptable behavior among allies and partners; their consequences affect the very concept we have of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”
Biden and Macron are scheduled to meet in person later this month following the spat. Politico reported that meeting will occur in Europe and that Biden and Macron have spoken over the phone.
Following the highly unusual tension between centuries-old allies, Kerry said Biden was unaware when he offered nuclear-powered U.S. technology to Australia that his decision to nix France from an earlier agreement relating to countering China’s presence in the Pacific would create tension.
“And I don’t want to go into the details of it, but suffice it to say that the president, my president, is very committed to strengthening the relationship and making sure that this is a small event of the past and moving on to the much more important future,” Kerry added.
Biden’s point man on the climate said he understand why the French were angered.
“We have a relationship with France that is so much bigger than this moment of what happened with respect to a lack of communication,” Kerry told BFMTV, adding that the allies “have so much to work on.”
“Our commitment … to our ability to work together is much, much stronger to any of these differences over the last few days,” Kerry said. “President Biden looks forward to meeting with President Macron and I’m absolutely confident that the bigger issues we have to work on, about nuclear weapons, about cyber warfare, about climate … we have a lot of work to do, and we can’t get lost in a momentary event that I think we will get past very quickly.”
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