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France Recalls Ambassadors To The U.S. And Australia In Objection To Security Pact


France is making it loud and clear that it objects to the security pact the U.S., U.K. and Australia announced this week. Today France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for consultations. The move comes just one day after the French foreign minister said it was, quote, "a stab in the back" when the three countries excluded France from a deal to make nuclear-powered submarines together. The U.S. made the agreement as it seeks to counter China's influence in the Pacific Ocean and globally, but France already had a submarine deal with Australia, which was suddenly cancelled as Australia made the new deal. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us now from Paris.

Hi, Eleanor. Eleanor, are you with us?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Yes, I'm with you. Can you hear me?

FADEL: I can hear you now.

BEARDSLEY: OK. Yes. Go ahead.

FADEL: So what are you hearing there about what's driving this pretty unusual move?

BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, the French feel that they were really left out in the dark about this deal between the U.K., U.S. and Australia that was already, you know, likely in the works for some time, and they were just notified at the last minute. We're hearing on the French media the Australian prime minister tried to reach out to Macron just hours before the deal was announced. France had its own deal, as you said, with Australia negotiated in 2016 - $43 billion. It was a 50-year deal to sell conventional submarines, transfer of French technology.

But beside that, you know, France plays a role in this region. It has islands - Polynesia, New Caledonia. It does patrols. It wants to be in this region, and the defense agreement with Australia was one way of being in there. And so these are all strategic considerations, but beyond all that, people feel shocked, betrayed and treated poorly. The French Foreign Ministry put out a statement. It said, this is unacceptable behavior between allies. And I spoke with political analyst Nicole Bacharan, who specializes in Franco-American relations, and this is what she said.

NICOLE BACHARAN: It is a big shock to be treated so poorly by, you know, our oldest ally and in a way that recalls the bad years under the Trump administration.

BEARDSLEY: So that's the way people are feeling about it.

FADEL: So what are U.S. officials saying?

BEARDSLEY: Well, the White House released a statement saying, while we regret that, you know, they've taken this step, you know, we're calling the ambassador, we continue to be engaged. You know, Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks fluent French. He lived in Paris, and he said, you know, France will always be a strategic partner. But France just feels - it is smarting from a wound right now.

FADEL: Are the U.S. and France on the same page when it comes to dealing with China?

BEARDSLEY: Well, yes but no. You know, Europe was going to sign a trade deal last December with China but pulled it. So France realizes that China is a major competitor. It's an authoritarian society. They're concerned about the way the virus was handled, the pandemic, the way Uyghurs are treated. But China's a trading partner as well, an important one. And France and Europe don't want to be dragged down into a fight between the U.S. and China. They want to manage China with their allies. And that's what France thought it was doing here with this deal with Australia and feels totally thrown out right now.

FADEL: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.