White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday disputed claims by French diplomatic officials that they were blindsided by a security pact under which the U.S. and U.K. will help Australia build a fleet of nuclear submarines, reportedly prompting them to cancel a planned gala.
Psaki said during a press briefing the U.S. was "engaged, in advance of this announcement, with leaders in France," adding that French officials "were aware of this announcement."
The remarks came after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the pact, which involves Australia pulling out of a similar deal with France, a "unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision," adding that it "looks a lot like what Mr. Trump used to do."
French officials, incensed by the deal, cancelled a gala celebrating the 240th anniversary of a French victory over the British in the Revolutionary War, which was set to occur at the French embassy in D.C. on Friday, according to the New York Times .
Psaki punted to Australian officials to explain "why they purchased this technology" rather than maintain their deal with the French, but said the U.S. "value[s] our relationship and our partnership with France."
Pressed on how President Joe Biden feels about being compared to former President Donald Trump, who Biden reviles, Psaki said, "I would say that the president doesn't think about it much."
Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the AUKUS partnership during a joint press conference on Wednesday, framing it as a bid to improve security in the Indo-Pacific region, in what appears to be a response to China's growing assertiveness and expanding military posture.
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Morrison said Australia will work with the U.S. and U.K. over the next 18 months to define the scope of the submarine project. The vessels will carry conventional arms rather than nuclear weapons in accordance with the international Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
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