US says meeting with European partners including France cancelled

Mr Antony Blinken (left) and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on June 25, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A multilateral meeting on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly in New York bringing together European countries including France and the United States has been cancelled due to scheduling issues, US officials said on Tuesday (Sept 21).

The meeting was one of the three planned get-togethers that would bring together US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, among other countries, for the first time since Washington and Paris plunged into an unprecedented diplomatic crisis last week.

The row erupted after Australia cancelled an order for conventional submarines from France and said instead it would build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology under a new security partnership with those countries that came after months of secret talks.

The decision enraged France and on Monday in New York Le Drian accused US President Joe Biden's administration of continuing his predecessor Donald Trump's trends of "unilateralism, unpredictability, brutality and not respecting your partner".

France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia on Friday. On Tuesday, Germany joined France in berating the US for negotiating a security pact in secret.

Senior State Department officials, in a briefing with reporters, said a meeting that was planned between the United States, France, Germany and Britain on Wednesday was no longer happening but did not say whether the cancellation was linked to the submarine spat.

"I think the schedules got in the way of that (meeting) at the ministerial level," a senior State Department official said."But a lot of these countries are going to see each other in other formats."

Asked if Blinken will have a separate bilateral meeting with Le Drian, the official said: "I would expect that the secretary and the foreign minister will have a chance to exchange views at some point over the course of the week."

Blinken is set to attend a G-20 summit on Afghanistan on Wednesday as well as a meeting between the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which are Russia, China, Britain and France, aside from the United States.

Earlier this week a senior State Department official also declined to say whether Blinken sought to meet with Le Drian and said the top US diplomat's schedule for the week remained "dynamic".

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