The secret talks behind the US deal that France called “betrayal”


By then the Australians knew the program was dead.

French Ambassador to the United States Philippe Étienne has said in several interviews that he first heard about the deal in leaked reports in Australian media and in Politico. Other French officials said they suspected something was going on a week ago, but did not get an immediate response from Mr Blinken or Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. The first U.S. official to discuss the details with Ambassador Etienne was Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, hours before Wednesday’s public announcement.

US officials insist it was not for them to talk to the French about their trade deal with Australia – it was for Australian officials to discuss.

The Chinese government has also not been notified, which is not surprising since the official US position is that the submarine deal does not target any particular nation. But China’s first response to the new alliance, awkwardly named AUKUS (for Australia, UK and US), was that it was “extremely irresponsible” and would spark a race for armaments. In fact, the latest Pentagon report on China indicates that the Chinese navy has built a dozen nuclear submarines, some of which can carry nuclear weapons. Australia has pledged never to deploy nuclear weapons.

Even before Mr Macron recalled the ambassadors, Mr Biden’s aides seemed taken aback by the ferocity of the French response, particularly Mr Le Drian’s characterization that it was a “stab in the back”. They suggested the French were too dramatic and believe the two countries will gradually return to normal relations. History suggests that they may be right: a huge breach caused by the British and French invasion of the Suez Canal in 1956 was finally covered up, as was the “Nixon shock” with the Japanese in 1971, when the United States has given no opinion on its decision to exit the gold standard.

In this case, US officials said the decision to reject the existing Franco-Australian contract and replace it with one that would tie Australia technologically and strategically to the nuclear submarine program, generated virtually no debate. internal, participants said. The reason was simple: at Biden’s White House, the imperative to challenge China’s growing footprint and its efforts to push the US Navy east, to the next chain of islands in the Pacific, reign supreme.

“It says a lot about how Washington sees its interests in the Pacific,” said Fontaine, “that there was no need to wring your hand to anger the French.”

For years, US officials knew the shift to Asia could strain relations with European allies. While former President Barack Obama initially adopted the phrase “the fulcrum” to describe America’s move to the region of the world where his economic and strategic interests are greatest – as a basketball player he s ‘hangs on the sports metaphor – his White House ultimately banned public use of the phrase over European objections.


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