Angry France opens UN session with cold shoulder for Antony Blinken

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·4 min read
Angry France opens UN session with cold shoulder for Antony Blinken
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NEW YORK CITY, New York — French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has no intention of meeting Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week, leaving the task of mollifying French anger over U.S. and British partnership to provide Australia with nuclear submarines to President Joe Biden.

“I, myself, do not intend to meet the secretary of state, Blinken,” Le Drian told reporters Monday. “Of course, I might see him here or there in a corridor, but it will not be the first point of entry.”

Le Drian launched the annual United Nations confab with a chilly analogy between Biden and former President Donald Trump. That comparison continued a theme of French anger over the landmark submarine agreement, which came at the expense of a preexisting French contract with Australia. However, Le Drian enlarged the grievance into a broader threat to international cooperation.

“There is a crisis of trust beyond the fact that the contract is being broken — as if Europe itself doesn't have an interest to defend in the particular region,” Le Drian said. “What is at stake is not just trust within the transatlantic relationship, and the reason why I am mentioning it in the context of the UNGA, it is because it is a matter of capability of defending multilateralism — it requires us to be able to work together.”

AUSTRALIA SAYS FRENCH SUBMARINES WERE INFERIOR TO TECHNOLOGY OFFERED BY US AND UK

French Defense Minister Florence Parly similarly canceled her meeting in New York with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. Still, Blinken left the door open to an eventual meeting with Le Drian.

"As has been said by the secretary and others in the administration, France is our longest ally, our longest friend and partner, and continues to be an extremely valuable ally across a huge range of issues," the State Department's Erica Barks-Ruggles, the top official in the bureau of international organizations, told reporters Monday. "We will obviously be seeing the French as part of the P5 meeting, and we anticipate that the schedule will remain dynamic as it always does up at UNGA as we work to — to schedule bilateral, multilateral meetings."

Biden unveiled the agreement last week, in a virtual press conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as a boon for democratic allies seeking to maintain peace and security in the Indo-Pacific. Yet, the decision outraged French officials, who reportedly did not know of the deal until the day it was announced. That means months of negotiations were conducted in secrecy, even as Macron hosted Morrison and touted the submarine sale to Australia as a key component of France’s burgeoning Indo-Pacific strategy.

“We understand the French position. We don't share their view in terms of how this all developed, but we understand their position,” a senior administration official told reporters earlier Monday. “And we look forward to the phone call between President Biden and President Macron once its time is fixed on the books. We think that will be an important moment and opportunity for the two leaders to speak directly with one another.”

Biden touted the “deep mutual respect” between the presidents, but Le Drian called that into question. The French diplomat — reflecting on U.S. moves, such as Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and Biden’s secrecy about the submarine deal with the Australians — argued the “spirit is still the same." The move was interpreted as a severe insult, he said, in the lexicon of both the Biden and the Macron administrations.

“Yes, it is a disappointment,” he said, per the interpreter. “We thought the age of unilateralism, unpredictability, the brutality of the announcement, of lack of respect for a partner — we thought these belonged to the past."

U.S. and Australian officials have attempted to soften the blow with a number of compliments for the French. Australian Foreign Minister Marisa Payne touted her desire to work “constructively and closely with our colleagues in France” on Indo-Pacific issues on Friday, just as Le Drian announced the recall of the French ambassadors to the United States and Australia.

Hours later, Blinken’s team applauded the September “announcement from our partner and ally France that its troops killed” the leader of an Islamic State affiliate in the Greater Sahara — an operation overshadowed last week by the announcement of the submarine deal.

“We commend France’s continued commitment to countering terrorism and protecting civilians in West Africa in coordination with our African partners,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.

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Biden’s team also announced Monday that vaccinated Europeans will be allowed to travel to the U.S., ending a blanket ban on travel from Europe that has frustrated officials from various European governments for months.

“Lifting the travel ban — better late than never,” Le Drian said in response to the news.

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Tags: News, Foreign Policy, National Security, France, Australia, United Kingdom, Emmanuel Macron, Antony Blinken, United Nations

Original Author: Joel Gehrke

Original Location: Angry France opens UN session with cold shoulder for Antony Blinken