The US strongly supports France strengthening ties with India, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said amid a diplomatic row between Washington and Paris over their roles in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Both France and the US have very strong interests in strengthening, even more, our respective relationships with India. This is something that we strongly support,” Blinken said here on Thursday.
He made the statement in reply to a reporter who referred to a phone call between French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and asked if the US would welcome a “nuclear submarine alliance” between New Delhi and Paris. But he did not directly address the issue, saying only: “I’m not going to get into any specific hypotheticals about the future.”
There has been speculation that France may want to sell India nuclear-powered submarines, which the US has reportedly refused citing the likelihood of opposition to the sale from Congress.
India is a member of the Quad along with the US, Australia, and Japan, which promotes security and development in the Indo-Pacific region and aims to stand up to Chinese aggressiveness, but it also has strong ties with France.
France’s dispute with the US and Australia arose over Washington’s offer of nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra that resulting in it scuttling a deal worth about $50 billion to buy French diesel-powered submarines. In a very strong reaction, France withdrew its ambassadors from the US and Australia in protest.
India is already a major defense customer of France, buying 36 Rafale fighter jets worth about $8 billion as well as anti-tank missiles. India has an indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine and in the past had leased them from Russia. It may want to augment the locally developed submarines with more advanced models.
The Washington-Canberra submarine deal coincided with the announcement of a defense pact between Australia, the UK, and the US (AUKUS) that further alienated France which saw it as an attempt to curtail its role in the region.
At the news conference, Blinken tried to make amends to Paris by praising a French-driven European strategy for the Indo-Pacific unveiled last week.
“We very much welcome European engagement and French engagement and leadership in the Indo-Pacific, and that’s a point that bears emphasis,” he said.
“The European Union strategy that came out on the Indo-Pacific a few days ago, a strategy in which France played a leading role in developing, is one that we very, very strongly welcome… One area where we will look to deepen our cooperation and collaboration is in the Indo-Pacific.”