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Politics Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France

02:30  17 september  2021
02:30  17 september  2021 Source:   thehill.com

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It's Thursday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

a close up of a flag: Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France © Getty Overnight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France

French officials are furious over the Biden administration's decision to scrap a $40 billion nuclear submarine deal that the European nation had signed with Australia, lashing out at President Biden over a perceived hidden deal that sidelined Paris.

We'll break down what caused the rift, how the French have reacted and the U.S. government's response.

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  9/11 20 years live updates: Former presidents join Biden to honor lives lost The anniversary was marked by several events across the country.Hijackers crashed two commercial airliners into the World Trade Center, striking the north tower at 8:46 a.m. followed by the south tower at 9:03 a.m. At 9:37 a.m., a third hijacked airline crashed into the Pentagon.

For The Hill, we're Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Kheel. Write to us with tips: emitchell@thehill.com and rkheel@thehill.com.

Let's get to it.

France cancels DC gala over sub snub

a sign in front of a building © Provided by The Hill

French officials on Thursday canceled a gala at the country's Washington, D.C., embassy over the Biden administration's decision to scrap a $40 billion nuclear submarine deal that the European nation had signed with Australia, The New York Times reported.

The U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom on Wednesday announced a new trilateral security partnership in the Indo-Pacific, with the three planning to launch an 18-month review exploring how Australia could best acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

But France - which had worked on the submarines since 2016 in a $40 billion deal to replace aging Australian subs - was left behind in the deal.

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The reaction: Now, Paris has angrily scrapped the "240th Anniversary of the Battle of the Capes" event meant to take place Friday evening at the French Embassy and aboard a French frigate in Baltimore, a French official told the Times. The event was meant to celebrate the French navy's aid to America's fight for independence in 1781.

Following the perceived snub, France's top naval officer, who had traveled to Washington for the gala, will return to Paris early.

The White House's response: Asked about France's displeasure later on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the United States values its relationship and partnership with France "on a variety of issues facing the global community."

She cited cooperation on economic and security issues and the coronavirus pandemic, and maintained that the Biden administration was engaged with French officials "in advance of the announcement."

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Psaki also indicated that President Biden would speak with French President Emmanuel Macron "soon" but said she had no calls with French officials to preview.

Concerns brushed aside: Asked later what Biden thinks about the French foreign minister comparing him to former President Trump and the French cancelling the gala, Psaki answered that Biden "doesn't think about it much" and that he is focused on maintaining the U.S. relationship with France, the U.K. and Australia.

She also said a handful of times that it was Australia's decision to seek nuclear-powered submarine technology.

Other assurances: Secretary of State Antony Blinken also on Thursday sought to assure France, saying it was a vital partner, according to remarks made after he spoke with Australian foreign and defense ministers in Washington, Reuters reported.

No hiding it: France has made no secret of its displeasure over being left out of the triad.

Earlier on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the decision was "a stab in the back."

"This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do," Le Drian told franceinfo radio, according to Reuters. "I am angry and bitter. This isn't done between allies."

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The problem: At issue is whether the U.S. government sought to hide its submarine deal from the French, who had their own now-scrapped multibillion-dollar deal with Australia, meant to be stretched out over 50 years.

French officials are accusing the Biden administration or shrouding information about its deal with the United Kingdom and Australia despite French diplomats' repeated attempts to find out more about any such plans.

A French official told the Times that Paris sought to speak with Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan but were unable to.

Read the full story here.

FRENCH EX AMBASSADOR ALSO TAKES SWIPE

Former French Ambassador Gérard Araud took a swipe at Blinken Thursday after he said France was still a "vital partner" amid the fallout from a new western security alliance.

Blinken's comment was an attempt to ease France's anger after the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom established a security partnership that excluded France, and scrapped a $40 billion deal for Australia to purchase French submarines.

"We are deeply moved..." the former ambassador sarcastically wrote on Twitter after the Agence France-Presse, a French news agency, tweeted Blinken's statement.

AND CHINA NOT HAPPY

China on Thursday condemned the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia's move to join a security partnership, saying it is "severely damaging regional peace."

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The partnership is "severely damaging regional peace and stability, intensifying an arms race, and damaging international nuclear nonproliferation efforts," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Thursday, according to Reuters.

"China will closely watch the situation's development," he added.

No partnerships, please: Zhao says countries shouldn't be forming partnerships that directly target another nation, although all three countries did not mention China in the announcement of the move.

Jan. 6 panel says it's reviewing Milley's actions

a man wearing a military uniform standing in front of a building: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine General Mark Milley leaves a closed-door briefing with members of the House regarding the situation in Afghanistan and the evacuation effort on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. © Provided by The Hill Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine General Mark Milley leaves a closed-door briefing with members of the House regarding the situation in Afghanistan and the evacuation effort on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.

The House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol confirmed Thursday that it was reviewing the actions of Joint Chief of Staff Mark Milley and other Pentagon officials following reporting examining his maneuvering during former President Donald Trump's final days in office.

What sparked it: A forthcoming book details how Milley twice called his Chinese counterpart following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to assure him Trump did not have plans to attack Beijing as part of a ploy to remain in power - sparking new calls for the general to resign.

The book "Peril," by veteran journalist Bob Woodward and The Washington Post's Robert Costa also claims that Milley moved to limit Trump's ability to call for a military strike or launch nuclear weapons after the riot.

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The reasoning: "The facts surrounding steps taken at the Pentagon to protect our security both before and after January 6th are a crucial area of focus for the Select Committee. Indeed, the Select Committee has sought records specifically related to these matters and we expect the Department of Defense to cooperate fully with our probe," Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in a statement.

The committee pointed to an Aug. 24 request to the Department of Defense asking for a number of documents.

That includes asking for "all documents and communications from November 3, 2020, through January 20, 2021, relating to defying orders from the president" as well as any potential use of military power to impede or ensure the peaceful transfer of power before the Inauguration.

Read the full story here.

GOP wants testimony from Afghanistan watchdog

a group of people standing around a plane © Provided by The Hill

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee are demanding a hearing to evaluate the chaotic exit from Afghanistan after securing a commitment to hear testimony from the inspector general tasked with reviewing U.S. military efforts in the country.

According to a letter obtained by The Hill, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko and all three inspectors general from the departments of Defense and State as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development have all agreed to appear before the committee.

Context: The request to schedule a hearing comes after Republicans asked Sopko to declassify the annexes of the watchdog's most recent quarterly reports on the Afghanistan reconstruction.

"​​These reports-particularly their classified annexes-present new information and valuable context regarding the security situation in Afghanistan," Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member of the committee, wrote to Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Australia Reminds France It's Always Supported Them Amid U.S. Submarine Deal Dustup

  Australia Reminds France It's Always Supported Them Amid U.S. Submarine Deal Dustup "Let's remember, tens of thousands of Australians died on French soil over two World Wars protecting France in France," Australia's Deputy Prime Minister said.France canceled meetings with British and Australian officials, and has recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia for the first time in a rarely-seen move between allied countries.

Earlier: The Oversight Committee has yet to hold a hearing on the Afghanistan withdrawal, but on Sept. 10 it sent a letter to Sopko requesting he "conduct a review to examine the underlying causes that may have contributed to the rapid collapse last month of the government of Afghanistan and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), any potential loss or compromise of U.S. reconstruction assistance resulting from the Taliban's return to power, and the ramifications of the U.S. military and diplomatic withdrawal."

Read the rest here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a virtual book discussion on "Three Dangerous Men: Russia, China, Iran, and the Rise of Irregular Warfare," at 12 p.m.
  • The Heritage Foundation will hold a virtual book discussion on "The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict," at 1 p.m.

WHAT WE'RE READING

  • Pentagon asks all personnel to report symptoms of 'Havana syndrome'
  • Iran rips nuclear watchdog's work as 'unprofessional'
  • Afghan resistance leader retains K Street lobbyist
  • Taliban co-founder reemerges amid reported divisions in leadership
  • UN chief: Notion that world body can fix Afghanistan a 'fantasy'
  • French forces kill Islamic State in Sahara leader, Macron says
  • Military Times: Military COVID-19 deaths continue to spike but no fatalities among fully vaccinated
  • The Washington Post: Afghan American woman's escape highlights the secretive CIA role with the Kabul rescues

That's it for today. Check out The Hill's defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. We'll see you Friday.

Australia Reminds France It's Always Supported Them Amid U.S. Submarine Deal Dustup .
"Let's remember, tens of thousands of Australians died on French soil over two World Wars protecting France in France," Australia's Deputy Prime Minister said.France canceled meetings with British and Australian officials, and has recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia for the first time in a rarely-seen move between allied countries.

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