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“You Don’t Do That to an Ally”: Longtime French Ambassador to U.S. Scorches Biden

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As of Monday, Biden administration officials were in active discussions with their French counterparts to connect the president with French President Emmanuel Macron to clean up a diplomatic spat between the two countries that blew up last week. The row centers on a new Indo-Pacific-focused alliance with the United Kingdom and Australia. As part of the alliance, the United States agreed to provide nuclear-powered submarine technology to Australia in a $66 billion deal that left France out in the cold. France had previously been negotiating its own $66 billion submarine deal with Australia that the new deal papered over.

Biden administration officials didn’t expect the response they got. The French ambassador, Philippe Etienne, was recalled for consultations, as was Etienne’s diplomatic colleague in Australia. A gala scheduled at the French embassy marking the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Chesapeake Bay, an important battle during the American Revolutionary War involving the French and British, was canceled. On Sunday, France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, talked with ambassadors from the United States and Australia about “the strategic consequences of the current crisis.”

The crisis also marks an example of the United States’ pivot to countering China around the world. Helping Australia with submarines is part of that pivot. Privately though, United States diplomatic officials have also been suggesting that France’s irritated response is in part about politics. Macron wants to appear tough as he heads into a tough reelection fight.

Over the weekend, I caught up with Etienne’s predecessor, Gérard Araud, the longtime ambassador to the United States from France who served from 2014 to 2019 and prior to that the permanent representative to the United States from France for five years, became a master navigator of Washington political and diplomatic circles. Araud, speaking on the phone to me from Paris, relayed the French frustration with the United States, the scope of what this broken deal means, and what he expects to happen next. A transcript of our conversation from Saturday is below. It has been edited for brevity and clarity (and because my French is terrible):

The New Republic: I guess I was surprised when they recalled your successor over this. It just seemed to have happened so quickly.

Araud: He was on the phone on the way to the airport, and I told him, “It is very chic to be recalled. Really........

© New Republic

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