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Paris cancels French, UK defense ministers’ meeting amid submarine row

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
French Defense Minister Florence Parly (R) exchanges an elbow bump with her British counterpart Ben Wallace before a meeting in Paris on July 26, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

France has canceled an official meeting scheduled for this week between its Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly and UK Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace amid simmering tensions over a submarine row, a source in the French foreign office has said.

The move comes in the wake of a new security pact under which the US and the UK shall provide Australia with advanced technology of nuclear-powered submarines, effectively sidelining France.

The “meeting planned for this week in London... will not take place due to the French canceling”, said the ministry source, who wanted to be anonymous.

Australia had selected French shipbuilder Naval Group in 2016 to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its Collins submarines. However, its decision to tear up the contract with France in favor of American nuclear-powered vessels, sparked outrage in Paris last week, with President Emmanuel Macron recalling its ambassadors to the US and Australia in an unprecedented display of outrage.

Under the new partnership, known as AUKUS, the three countries have agreed to enhance the development of joint capabilities and technology sharing, and foster deeper integration of security and defense-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains.

An official source in the UK Ministry of Defense neither confirmed nor denied the cancelation of the meeting, adding that “the UK remains in conversation with French counterparts about the meetings.”

Meanwhile, the US and the UK have requested early talks with Macron in an apparent bid to smooth tensions with Paris.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to appease France's concerns about the deal on Sunday, by stressing that the pact was "not meant to be exclusionary... it's not something that anybody needs to worry about and particularly not our French friends".

“We want explanations,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, adding that the US had to answer for “what looks a lot like a major breach of trust.” According to Attal, Biden has requested a phone call with Macron, which would happen “in the coming days.”

Speaking to the France 2 television on Saturday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the recall of the ambassadors, which happened for the first time in the history of relations between the two countries, was “to show how unhappy we are and that there is a serious crisis between us,” adding that “there has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt.”

In response, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday, he understood France’s disappointment, but that he did in no way regret having put "Australia’s national interest first." 

Although Paris regards Washington as the prime mover in the security pact, it is unlikely that Britain can escape the worsening diplomatic fallout completely.

Le Drian has depicted London’s role as “a bit like the third wheel” in the pact, saying “we know their constant opportunism.”


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