Restoring relations will require ‘time and actions’, French foreign minister tells Blinken

The way out of a diplomatic crisis between France and the US over a mega submarine deal will "take time and require actions", French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his US counterpart Antony Blinken Thursday.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, D.C., July 14, 2021.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, D.C., July 14, 2021. © Nicholas Kamm, AFP

France was incensed to find out last week that Australia had signed a deal with the United States and Britain for nuclear-powered submarine technology, in the process abandoning a multibillion-dollar 2016 deal in which Canberra had agreed to buy French submarines.  

Blinken’s meeting with Le Drian came a day after US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone and agreed to launch in-depth consultations to rebuild trust between the two NATO allies. They also agreed to meet in Europe at the end of October.

Le Drian and Blinken, meeting at the United Nations in New York, discussed “the terms and main issues” to be addressed during these consultations, a French foreign ministry statement said.

Blinken remorseful

Blinken, a fluent French speaker who grew up partly in Paris, appeared remorseful as he spoke to reporters later in the day following the closed-door, one-hour meeting at France's UN mission.

He voiced his personal respect for Le Drian and, reiterating a White House statement, said that the episode would have "benefitted from open consultations among allies."

Blinken acknowledged that repairing ties with Paris will take time.

"We recognise that this will take time and hard work," Blinken told reporters.

Worst crisis since Iraq

The row plunged Franco-US ties into what some viewed as the most acute crisis since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Paris vocally opposed.

France recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia last week.

Macron and Biden met for the first time in person in June at a summit of G7 countries in Cornwall, southwest England, where they were seen smiling broadly together.

Gilles Gressani, president of the Groupe d'Etudes Geopolitiques think tank, said this week that showdowns with the US are "a constant feature of French foreign policy". But regarding the scuttled submarine deal, he said, "the intensity of [France's] reaction is striking". 

France's European allies, meanwhile, have rallied around Paris, but some warned the dispute should not torpedo trade talks.

Cold shoulder?

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he is being given the cold shoulder by Macron after the scrapping of the submarine deal, but vowed to be "patient" in repairing frayed relations.

Speaking in Washington late Wednesday, Morrison said he had tried to reach the French leader but the call had "not yet" happened.

"But we'll be patient. We understand their disappointment," said Morrison, a week after he tore up a $66 billion deal to buy a dozen diesel-electric French submarines.

'Poodles of the Americans'

Relations between France and the United Kingdom are also still frosty.

Diplomatic sources at the United Nations said that the French have rebuffed British efforts to set up a bilateral meeting between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Le Drian.

The two were seen shaking hands, however, at a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council on Wednesday.

Le Drian has described Britain as "a bit of a fifth wheel on the carriage" of the AUKUS deal and branded the UK as "opportunistic".

Former French Ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, described the Brits as the "poodles of the Americans, as usual".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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