By Alex Marquardt, Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood, CNN
Amid a rift over a new security agreement between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, the French Embassy in Washington has canceled a Washington reception and toned down celebrations commemorating a Revolutionary War naval victory by the French that helped the US to win its independence.
The embassy said the celebrations have been made “more sober” and the reception planned for Friday at the ambassador’s residence to mark the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Capes has been called off. A reception on a frigate in Baltimore has also been downsized, a senior French official told CNN, who said the changes were “to make the people more comfortable.”
“It’s not anger. We are not happy but it’s the practical way of adapting ourselves,” the official said. “In the context we have taken some things from the program, kept some others so that we kept the celebrations but don’t want to have people to be obliged to be together.”
Other parts of the celebration will continue, including a wreath laying in Annapolis on Saturday and a visit by a French destroyer to Baltimore Harbor on Monday.
The move comes a day after the United States announced a trilateral security arrangement with the Australians and British focusing on the Indo-Pacific region. Under that agreement, the US will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, costing Paris a multi-billion dollar submarine deal.
In a tweet Wednesday, French Ambassador to the US Philippe Etienne noted, “Interestingly, exactly 240 years ago the French Navy defeated the British Navy in Chesapeake Bay, paving the way for the victory at Yorktown and the independence of the United States.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday sought to downplay the rift between the US and France, stressing their importance as “a vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.
“I want to emphasize that there is no regional divide separating the interests of our Atlantic and our Pacific partners,” he said in remarks at the State Department Thursday.
The top US diplomat said the US welcomes “European countries playing an important role in the Indo Pacific,” adding that, “France in particular is a vital partner on this and so many other issues stretching back generations, and we want to find every opportunity to deepen our transatlantic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.”
French officials on Wednesday expressed ire over the new agreement, with the French Foreign and Defense Ministers saying in a joint statement that the “decision is contrary to the letter and spirit of the cooperation that prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust as well as on the development of a very high-level defense industrial and technological base in Australia.”
“The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret,” they said.
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