Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a written statement that the French decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.
He said Wednesday’s announcement of Australia’s submarine deal with the US is “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners.”
Earlier on Friday (France time), a top French diplomat spoke of a “crisis” in relations with the US.
The diplomat, who spoke anonymously in line with customary government practice, 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 would not speculate on the effects the situation would have on France’s relationship with the US. “There’s a crisis,” he stressed.
Mr Macron has not commented on the issue since President Joe Biden’s announcement of a strategic Indo-Pacific alliance with Australia and Britain, leading France to lose a nearly $90 billion deal to build diesel-electric submarines.
The French diplomat said on Friday that Mr Macron received a letter from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday morning announcing the decision to cancel the submarine deal.
French officials then decided to reach out to the US administration “to ask what was going on,” he said. He added that discussions with Washington took place just two to three hours before Mr Biden’s public announcement.
Mr Le Drian on Thursday expressed “total incomprehension” at the move and criticized both Australia and the U.S.
“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” he said. “This is not done between allies.”
He also compared Mr Biden’s move to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under Trump’s “America First” doctrine.
The French diplomat said Australia never mentioned to France before its will to shift to nuclear-powered submarines, including during a meeting between Mr Macron and Mr Morrison in Paris on June 15.