France cancels DC gala after being left out of AUKUS pact

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France cancels DC gala after being left out of AUKUS pact

After calling the Biden administration’s failure to include France in the national security pact with the United Kingdom and Australia a “stab in the back,” French officials on Thursday canceled a gala at their Washington embassy, a new report says.

French officials canceled the Friday affair, which was set to commemorate the “240th Anniversary of the Battle of the Capes” at the embassy and on a French frigate in Baltimore, Maryland, according to the New York Times

The cancellation comes one day after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the newly announced AUKUS nuclear submarine pact “a stab in the back” to the country. 

“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do,” Le Drian told France Info, referring to President Biden’s predecessor. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”

President Joe Biden
Jean-Yves Le Drian said the Biden administration’s move reminded him of something from President Donald Trump’s term.
Patrick Semansky/AP

“The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret,” the French embassy in DC said in a statement.

French authorities also expressed disappointment in Australia for not pursuing a conventional submarine-building project that a French company called Naval Group hoped to support.

The Biden administration was on the defensive Thursday, saying it hopes to remain in close cooperation with European countries outside the pact that are “playing an important role in the Indo-Pacific.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said France remains important in the Indo-Pacific region.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“France in particular is a vital part on this, and so many other issues, especially back generations,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a joint press conference with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton in Washington, DC. “We want to find every opportunity to deepen our trans-Atlantic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, and around the world.” 

In response to anger over Australia’s decision to pursue nuclear technology with the US rather than France, Blinken shifted away from answering directly. 

“I’ll leave it to our Australian partners to describe why they sought this new technology,” he said. “But 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 beyond and around the world [and] we’re going to continue to do so. We place fundamental value on that relationship, on that partnership.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin joined Blinken for Thursday's press conference.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin joined Antony Blinken for Thursday’s press conference.
Susan Walsh, File/AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, meanwhile, sought to deflect reporters’ questions on the matter by emphasizing the US’ close relationship and partnership with France on a variety of issues, also pointing out that it is up to Australia to reveal why it decided to pursue nuclear technology with the US rather than France. 

“We cooperate closely with France, as the president said yesterday,” Psaki added. “We have a range of shared priorities in the Indo-Pacific, and that will certainly continue. We don’t see this from our end as a regional divide. We see this as areas in security to security issues that we want to take on together.”

The AUKUS initiative includes the UK and aims to strengthen cooperation as China emerges as a strategic threat. It also affirms the US alliance with Australia after Biden snubbed the country’s prime minister during the recent Afghanistan troop pullout.

“AUKUS will bring together our sailors, our scientists and our industries to maintain and expand our edge in military capabilities and critical technologies such as cyber and artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea domains,” Biden said in announcing the partnership.

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