President Biden on Friday said the White House was “clumsy” in its rollout of a new trilateral security partnership with the U.K. and Australia that frustrated France over its loss of a potential $90 billion submarine contract.

Biden made the comment to the press during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Rome ahead of both leaders’ attendance at the G20 Summit.

President Biden with French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Twitter account of President Biden.

“What happened was, to use an English phrase, what we did was clumsy. It was not done with a lot of grace. I was under the impression that certain things had happened that hadn’t happened. But I want to make it clear, France is an extremely, extremely valued partner and power in an of itself,” Biden said.

The U.S, U.K. and Australia announced the formation of the new AUKUS security partnership in September, which includes an 18-month effort to work with Australia on how the country will pursue its first nuclear-powered submarines (Defense Daily, Sept. 15).

With AUKUS and its new pursuit of nuclear-powered capabilities, Australia canceled a potential $90 billion program to replace its current fleet of six Collins-class diesel-electric attack submarines with 12 new conventionally powered submarines designed by France’s Naval Group

The move led France to temporarily recall its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia, citing the “exceptional gravity” of the announcement and loss of the submarine contract (Defense Daily, Sept. 17). 

“The cancellation of the Attack class submarine program binding Australia and France since 2016, and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States meant to launch studies on a possible future cooperation on nuclear-powered submarines, constitute unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, whose consequences directly affect the vision we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe,” the French Foreign Ministry wrote in a statement in mid-September.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in the days following the AUKUS announcement there was no intent to “cut off any allies” with regards to France’s exclusion from the new security pact. 

Adm. Mike Gilday, Chief of U.S. Naval Operations, said recently the effort to design, build, support and properly oversee Australia’s fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines under AUKUS may take decades (Defense Daily, Sept. 23).