In a statement, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French minister for Europe and foreign affairs, said Friday that the move was made at the request of President Emmanuel Macron.
“This extraordinary decision reflects the exceptional seriousness of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” Le Drian said. “The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project that Australia and France had been working on since 2016 and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States aimed at studying the possibility of future cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines constitute unacceptable behavior among allies and partners; their consequences affect the very concept we have of our alliances, our partnerships, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”
It’s believed to be the first time the French have resorted to such a move in modern times, a French official told CNN.
The US has been in contact with the French government regarding the decision to recall its envoy to Washington for consultation in Paris, the White House said.
“We have been in close touch with our French partners on their decision to recall Ambassador Etienne to Paris for consultations. We understand their position and will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance. France is our oldest ally and one of our strongest partners, and we share a long history of shared democratic values and a commitment to working together to address global challenges,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement.
The French government said earlier this week that it felt betrayed when Australia pulled out of their existing multibillion-dollar defense deal, agreeing instead to attain nuclear-powered submarines through a new deal with the United States and the United Kingdom.
The effort to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines — a major step toward countering China as President Joe Biden works to build international backing for his approach to Beijing — is part of a new trilateral partnership among the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, dubbed “AUKUS.”
France stands to lose the equivalent of $65 billion US dollars from an existing deal to provide Australia with conventional, diesel-powered submarines.
The canceled deal with France, a major global weapons exporter, is expected to make a significant economic impact on the French defense sector. France also stands to lose out strategically in the Indo-Pacific, where the country holds significant interests.
On Thursday, after the nuclear-powered submarine deal with the US and the UK was announced, Australia formally announced it would be withdrawing from its previous contract for conventional submarines with France.
The deal with Paris had been in the works for years.
Australia previously planned to acquire 12 conventional attack-class submarines from the French shipbuilder Naval Group, which successfully beat out competing German and Japanese bids in 2016.
A senior administration official also said top American officials had communicated with their counterparts in France about the new agreement before and after it was announced. “I will leave it to our Australian partners to describe why they sought this new technology,” the official added.
Australia’s Defense Minister Peter Dutton said in a news conference on Thursday that the decision to choose the American nuclear-powered submarine over France’s conventional diesel submarine “is based on what is in the best interests of our national security.”
Biden attempt to thread the needle of European diplomacy and navigate a post-Brexit world has left some loyal allies suggesting Biden’s actions have ignored their needs or have been in line with those of his pro-nationalist predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
Prior to recalling the French Ambassador, Le Drian, in response to the deal, had strong words for the US, saying, “This brutal and unilateral decision resembles a lot of what Trump is doing.”
Biden is scheduled to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson next week at the White House, two officials confirmed to CNN on Thursday. And several foreign leaders are expected to visit the US for the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York next week, but many leaders coming to the US for the assembly are still waiting to hear if they will get sessions with the President.
This story has been updated with additional details Friday.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz, Kevin Liptak and Donald Judd contributed to this report.