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‘A Stab in the Back': France Rebukes Australia, Biden After Ditched Submarine Deal

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  • Australia had signed a contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group in 2016 to build a new fleet, at a cost of $40 billion, according to Reuters.
  • Both sides had confirmed the deal a couple of weeks ago.
  • However, Canberra has now decided to scrap that agreement and join forces with the U.S. and Britain.

LONDON — France is not holding back showing its disappointment with Australia after it abruptly ended a submarine contract in order to sign a new deal with the U.S. and U.K.

"It was a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia. This trust has been betrayed," Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's minister of foreign affairs, told radio station Franceinfo Thursday morning.

Australia had signed a contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group in 2016 to build a new fleet, at a cost of $40 billion, according to Reuters. Both sides had confirmed the deal a couple of weeks ago. However, Canberra has now decided to scrap that agreement and join forces with the U.S. and Britain.

Late on Wednesday, the three nations announced a new security partnership where Australia will receive new nuclear-powered submarines. The deal with France would have provided conventional submarines.

"We intend to build these submarines in Adelaide in close cooperation with the U.K. and the U.S. But let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Twitter.

He added that France is a "good partner" and that the new deal was motivated by "a changed strategic environment," according to France 24.

The French Embassy in Washington also canceled a gala at their sprawling compound over frustration with the new trilateral partnership, a French official confirmed to CNBC.

The event, which was slated to commemorate the "240th Anniversary of the Battle of the Capes," will no longer take place Friday at the embassy.

"Other parts of the celebration are still ongoing," the official said, including a wreath-laying ceremony in Annapolis. A French destroyer will pull into Baltimore harbor on Monday as will a French submarine at Norfolk harbor.  

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Thursday that he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken to their French counterparts about the new security pact ahead of its unveiling.

"I'll leave it to our Australian partners to describe why they sought this new technology. But as the president said and I want to emphasize again, we cooperate incredibly closely with France on many shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific but also around the world," Blinken said.

"We're going to continue to do so, we place fundamental value on that relationship, on that partnership and we will carry forward in the days ahead," the nation's top diplomat added.

Bitter relations

U.S. President Joe Biden made sure to reference France when presenting the new deal on Wednesday, saying the European nation will remain a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said Thursday that the relationship with France is "rock solid."

However, these words are unlikely to appease the ill feelings in France.

In the same radio interview, France's foreign affairs chief also said that this "unilateral and unpredictable decision" reminded him of what former President Donald Trump used to do.

US President Joe Biden speaks on national security with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 15, 2021.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images
US President Joe Biden speaks on national security with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 15, 2021.

France's ministers of foreign affairs and the armed forces also said in a joint statement on Thursday: "The American choice which leads to the removal of an ally and a European partner like France from structuring a partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region … marks an absence of coherence that France can only observe and regret."

The statement added that the latest developments intensify the need for European strategic autonomy — the idea that the European Union should become more independent with its defense and security policies.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, presented its strategy for the Indo-Pacific region on Thursday afternoon in Brussels. EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell said, "We must survive on our own, as others do."

Spokespeople for the White House and the Australian Embassy in London weren't immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

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