American and Australian officials have been in highly secret talks for months over a plan to share technology for nuclear-powered submarines, a process that was hatched more than a year ago and accelerated after President Biden took office in January.
Officials familiar with the matter said the discussions were kept exceedingly quiet, even within their own governments, given the sensitive nature of the technology, the prospect for angering China and the belief that any word leaking out could potentially scuttle the entire thing. The process “was undertaken with a high degree of discretion,” a senior administration official said.
Talks proceeded at the staff-level over the course of the spring before the issue was raised in a meeting between Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the G7, held in June on the Cornish coast. There was no public disclosure of the submarine deal at the time, though a White House description of the talks said the leaders “agreed that the strategic context in the Indo-Pacific was changing and that there was a strong rationale for deepening strategic cooperation between the three governments.”
Biden met French President Emmanuel Macron on the same day, and the two men appeared to get on well: cameras caught them wrapping their arms over each others’ shoulders as they walked from the beach to the summit venue. Officials said one-on-one talks between the men, which occurred on a sunny deck overlooking Carbis Bay, seemed cordial. But the brewing submarine deal — which would wind up scuttling France’s own agreement with Australia to provide conventional submarines — never came up,