PARIS – The French Foreign Minister has denounced what he called the “duplicity, contempt and lies” surrounding the sudden termination of France’s lucrative contract to build submarines for Australia in favor of an American accord and declared that a crisis was imminent between the Western allies.
A day after France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian clubbed what he suggested was a behind-the-scenes deal that betrayed France.
The recall of his ambassadors “signifies the strength of the crisis today” between the French government and Washington and Canberra, he said on Saturday in an interview with France 2 television. He said it was the first time that France, America’s oldest ally, recalled its ambassador to the United States.
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President Joe Biden‘s announcement of the deal, alongside Australian and British leaders, for at least eight nuclear-powered submarines has angered France.
The French signed a contract in 2016 for a dozen conventional diesel-electric submarines and the work to achieve them was already underway. The deal with Naval Group, majority owned by the French state, was worth at least $ 66 billion.
“I do not regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.
Morrison said he understands France’s disappointment but reiterated Australia must always make decisions in its best interests.
âThis is an issue that I raised directly a few months ago and we have continued to discuss these issues,â Morrison said in a briefing.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Peter Dutton are currently in the United States for annual talks with their American counterparts and their first with the Biden administration.
Dutton said on Sunday that Australia was “frank, open and honest” with France about its concerns over the deal and had raised concerns for a few years.
“Suggestions that the concerns were not reported by the Australian government simply, frankly, defy what is known to the public and certainly what they have said publicly over a long period of time,” Dutton told Sky News.
But diplomatic niceties have disappeared as the French authorities seek to voice their anger.
Le Drian denied reports that there had been prior consultations with France before the announcement, saying “this is not true”.
The allies “do not treat each other with such brutality, such unpredictability, a major partner like France,” said Le Drian. “So there really is a crisis.”
“There are reasons for us to question the strength of our alliance,” said Le Drian.
What the French authorities called a complex, multi-layered contract did not only concern submarines. It was the basis of the French vision of the critical Indo-Pacific region, where France is present and China seeks to strengthen its influence.
The Naval Group said in a statement that the consequences of the cancellation of the contract would be analyzed with Australia “in the coming days”. He notes that teams in France and Australia have been working on the project for five years.
Australian Naval Group employees and their families have moved to the Normandy port of Cherbourg. A union official, David Robin, told BFMTV employees have been told there may be an option to keep them.