“Repetition, slander and lies”: French officials anger at Australia’s submarine deal crisis

By The Associated Press

Paris: France’s foreign minister, on Saturday, September 18, 2021, in favor of a US deal surrounding the sudden break of France’s lucrative contract to build submarines for Australia, which he called “repeats, reproaches and lies”. Condemned and declared that a crisis is at hand between the Western allies.

A day after France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, what French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian suggested was a backroom deal that betrayed France.

In an interview on France 2 television he said the recall of the French government and its ambassadors between Washington and Canberra “symbolizes the strength of the crisis today”. He said that this is the first time that France, America’s oldest ally, has recalled its ambassador to America.

President Joe Biden’s announcement of a deal with the leaders of Australia and Britain for at least eight nuclear-powered submarines has stunned France. France signed a contract in 2016 for a dozen conventional diesel-electric submarines and work to build them was already underway. The deal with the French-majority state-owned Naval Group was worth at least $66 billion.

As French officials seek to express their anger, diplomatic nuances have gone out the window.
Le Drian denied reports that advance consultations had been held with France before the declaration, saying “this is not true.”

Le Drian said, “The allies do not treat each other with such cruelty, so much unpredictability, as with a major partner like France … so there is really a crisis.”

“We have reasons to question the strength of our alliance,” Le Drian said.

Previously, even the French ambassador to Australia had strayed from diplomatic language when it came to what he widely described in France as “the contract of the century”.

“It’s a big mistake, a very bad handling of the partnership,” French ambassador Jean-Pierre Thébault said before leaving for France.

The arms agreement between France and Australia, signed in 2016, was supposed to be “based on trust, mutual understanding and honesty”, an angry Thebault said. “I want to be able to walk into a time machine and be in a position where we don’t end up in such an unreliable, clumsy, inadequate, un-Australian situation.”

He said he found out about the canceled contract in the Australian press.

Le Drian said in a written statement on Friday that the French decision to recall its ambassadors – at the request of President Emmanuel Macron – is “justified by the extraordinary seriousness of the announcements made by Australia and the United States”.

What French officials have called the complex, multi-stage contract was about more than just submarines. This was the basis of France’s vision of the important Indo-Pacific region, where France has a presence and China seeks to increase its influence.

The naval group said in a statement that the consequences of the cancellation would be analyzed with Australia “in the coming days”. It was noted that teams from France and Australia have been working on the project for the past five years.

Australian crews working with the Naval Group and their families have made their home in the Normandy port of Cherbourg. David Robin, a union official, told BFMTV that employees were informed there may be an option to keep them running.

Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne’s office had earlier issued a statement noting Canberra’s “sorry” over the diplomat’s recall and his aide taking back his representative.

“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests,” the statement said. It added that Australia values ​​its relationship with France and looks forward to engaging together in the future.

Payne and Defense Secretary Peter Dutton are currently in the United States for annual talks with their American counterparts and for the first time with Biden’s administration.

After the US deal became public this week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had told Macron in June that there were “very real issues about whether a conventional submarine capability” would be necessary for Australia’s strategic security needs in the Indo-Pacific. will address.

Morrison specifically did not mention China’s massive military build-up, which has gained momentum in recent years.

Morrison was in Paris on his way home from the Group of Seven summit in Britain, where he held talks with soon-to-be coalition partners Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Thebault said he was also in the meeting with Macron and Morrison.

Morrison noted that “there were changes in the regional situation,” but gave no indication that Australia was considering switching to nuclear propulsion, Thebault said.

“Everything should have been done with complete transparency between the two partners,” he said.

Senior Australian opposition MP Mark Dreyfus called on the Australian government to fix its ties with France.

“The impact on our relations with France is a matter of concern, especially as a country with significant interests in our region,” Dreyfus said. “The French were blinded by this decision and Mr. Morrison should have done more to protect the relationship.”

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