Aukus: France recalls envoys amid security pact row

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France has said it is recalling its ambassadors in the US and Australia for consultations, in protest at a security deal which also includes the UK.

The French foreign minister said the "exceptional decision" was justified by the situation's "exceptional gravity".

The alliance, known as Aukus, will see Australia being given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines.

The move angered France as it scuppered a multibillion-dollar deal it had signed with Australia.

The agreement is widely seen as an effort to counter China's influence in the contested South China Sea. It was announced on Wednesday by US President Joe Biden, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.

France was informed of the alliance only hours before the public announcement was made.

In a statement late on Friday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who had described the pact as a "stab in the back", said the ambassadors were being recalled at the request of President Emmanuel Macron.

The deal "constitute[s] unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe", Mr Le Drian said.

A White House official said the Biden administration regretted the move and would be engaged with France in the coming days to resolve their differences.

Speaking in Washington, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she understood the "disappointment" in France and hoped to work with the country to ensure it understood "the value we place on the bilateral relationship".

A recall of ambassadors is highly unusual between allies, and it is believed to be the first time France has recalled envoys from the two countries. French diplomats in Washington had already cancelled a gala to celebrate ties between the US and France which was scheduled for Friday.

It's not about the money, but prestige

At the Elysée in Paris, they are concerned that in Washington, Canberra and London officials are underestimating and misinterpreting French anger - which is not about the loss of the submarine contract per se, but about the way France - an allied nation with a presence in the Pacific - was cut out of the picture in secret talks between the three English-speaking countries.

That's why President Macron last night ordered the recall for consultations of the two ambassadors: to show that from France's perspective this is a very big deal indeed, and that it raises questions over the essence of its relationship with America, Australia and, indeed, the UK - though it's noticeable that France is not recalling its ambassador to London.

The explanation given in briefings to the French press, with deliberate disdain, is that France considers the UK a junior player in the new pact, seeking a new world role post-Brexit, and riding along on Uncle Sam's coat-tails.

The pact means Australia will become just the seventh nation in the world to operate nuclear-powered submarines. It will also see the allies share cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence and other undersea technologies.

The announcement ended a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) that France had signed with Australia in 2016 to build 12 conventional submarines. China meanwhile accused the three powers involved in the pact of having a "Cold War mentality".

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