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Submarine dispute has EU chair asking: Is America back? By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -European Union foreign ministers will on Monday discuss Australia’s scrapping of a $40 billion submarine order with France in favor of a U.S. and British deal, as France said it has a “crisis in confidence” with Washington.

The meeting will take place on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders for the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Australia said last week it would cancel an order for conventional submarines from France and instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-SECURITY/AUSTRALIA-FRANCE/jnpweyabzpw/USA-SECURITY-AUSTRALIA.jpg with U.S. and British technology after striking a security partnership with those countries under the name AUKUS.

“We thought unilateralism, unpredictability, brutality and not respecting your partner was part of the past but it continues so we want to understand,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in New York on Monday, referring to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.

The United States has sought to assuage the anger in France, a NATO ally. French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Joe Biden are due to speak on the phone in the next few days.

“We are allies, we talk and don’t hide elaborate different strategies. That’s why there is a crisis in confidence,” Le Drian said. “So all that needs clarifications and explanations. It may take time.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that she expected Biden to “reaffirm our commitment to working with one of our oldest and closest partners on a range of challenges that the global community is facing” when he speaks with Macron.

It is not clear if the dispute will have implications for the next round of EU-Australia trade talks, scheduled for Oct. 12.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne in New York on Monday. Borrell “inquired about the lack of prior consultations and regretted that this partnership excludes European partners, who have a strong presence in the Pacific,” his spokesman said.

European Council President Charles Michel told reporters in New York that he found it difficult to understand the move.

“Why? Because with the new Joe Biden administration, America is back. This was the historic message sent by this new administration and now we have questions. What does it mean – America is back? Is America back in America or somewhere else? We don’t know,” he said.

If China was a main focus for Washington then it was “very strange” for the United States to team up with Australia and Britain, he said, calling it a decision that weakened the transatlantic alliance.

Top officials from the United States and European Union are due to meet in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, later this month for the inaugural meeting of the newly established U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, but Michel said some EU members were pushing for this to be postponed.

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