France-UK Defense Minister Meeting Canceled Over AUKUS Fracas - Report
Earlier this week, France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, bringing modern-day relations between the two countries to an unprecedented low. While the French ambassador to the UK was not recalled, the French foreign minister noted it was only because Paris was aware of the "UK's constant opportunism".
The French-British defense ministers meeting scheduled for next week has been canceled by Paris, following an intensified row over the unexpected announcement of a new trilateral security pact between the US, the UK and Australia, dubbed AUKUS, which effectively stripped the French government of a lucrative weapons sale, The Guardian reported on Sunday.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and his French counterpart, Florence Parly, were reportedly scheduled to hold a bilateral discussion in London. The Franco-British Council Defense's top officials from Europe's military heavyweights were also expected to attend the meeting.
The event, however, has been "postponed to a later date," according to Franco-British Council co-chair Peter Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser, according to reports. Parly's scheduled travel to London is said to have become unnecessary as the event will not take place.
British sources reportedly expressed optimism that discussions would go ahead.
"We have a strong and close working defence partnership with the French as trusted allies," an unnamed official is reported to have said, citing collaborative counter-terrorism operations in Mali and Iraq as instances of the two countries' connection.
Concerns over the French reaction prompted US President Joe Biden to request a meeting with Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, in an attempt to resolve the spat.
This also comes ahead of British PM Boris Johnson's and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss's upcoming trip to the US. Both will attend the United Nations General Assembly, with Johnson expected to make his first visit to the White House as prime minister, to speak with Biden.
The Burden of Telling the News Fell on Canberra
According to The Guardian, British defense officials claimed it was left to the Australians to tell the French that there would be no $66 billion weapons sale, but there appear to have been disagreements in Canberra over the best way to do so.
"Some Australians wanted to ring up one week and say we're so sorry, we're putting out the diesel submarine contract, and ring up the next week and say we just want you to know that we found a better submarine and it's British," an undisclosed source is quoted in the report as saying. "There was another school of thought that said: don't do it like that. They'll see through it and it will be worse because it will look duplicitous."
In the end, however, no side prevailed, as the French were effectively blindsided on Wednesday morning when the details reportedly leak in Australian and US media.
The Guardian noted that the UK claimed it was simply responding to a request from Australia in March this year for secret nuclear propulsion technology for its submarines, technology that Britain and the US share under a 1958 defense deal.
The Australians then went to the Biden administration after securing British cooperation, according to the outlet's defense source.
Macron is reportedly not expected to attend the UNGA meeting this year. France will be represented by Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who has described the Australian about face on the submarine sale a "stab in the back," and accusing those engaged in the reported months-long talks of "duplicity, contempt, and lies."
According to a Sunday Telegraph report, even as they displayed a show of friendship with the French president at the G7 summit this June, UK and Australian prime ministers, with the US government, were secretly negotiating the defense pact.
The French president and members of his government were reportedly kept out of the ongoing negotiations.
As part of the announced AUKUS pact, the three English-speaking countries agree to collaborate in know-how regarding artificial intelligence and quantum computing. According to reports, the sub-based nuclear-propulsion contract is just the first step.
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