- Australia canceled an agreement with the French naval group in September.
- Spillovers threaten to trickle down to trade
- The French ambassador said the leaked messages represented a “new low”
CANBERRA / SYDNEY, Nov. 3 (Reuters) – French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault on Wednesday said Australia had acted deceitfully by abruptly canceling a multibillion-dollar deal with Paris to build a fleet of submarines.
“The deception was intentional,” Thebault told media in Canberra on Wednesday.
“And because there was so much more at stake than providing submarines, because it was a common agreement on sovereignty, sealed by the transmission of highly classified data, the way it was. been treated was a stab in the back. “
Australia canceled an agreement with the French naval group in September, preferring to build at least 12 nuclear-powered submarines as part of a deal with the United States and Britain. Read more
The new alliance, dubbed AUKUS, is designed to provide Australia with access to nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.
The decision sparked a major bilateral rift, with France recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the United States in protest. Thebault returned to Canberra last month and Wednesday’s speech is the first time he has spoken publicly on the bilateral relationship.
“These are not things that are done between partners – let alone between friends,” said Thebault, who added that the French government had no complaints against the Australian people.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to refute Thebault’s comments during a speech Wednesday in the United Arab Emirates en route to the UN climate summit COP26.
“Claims have been made and claims have been refuted, what we need now is to move forward,” Morrison told reporters.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that Morrison had lied to him about Canberra’s intentions. Read more
Morrison denied the request. He said he previously explained to Macron that conventional submarines would no longer meet Australia’s needs.
Morrison and Macron spoke last week before the Australian leader publicly asked for a handshake from his French counterpart at the G20 meeting.
The destabilization of the usually close diplomatic relations between the two nations now threatens to have trade consequences.
The European Union has twice postponed a scheduled round of free trade negotiations with Australia. In solidarity with France, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asked if the bloc could strike a trade deal with Australia. Read more
The relationship was tested further this week after Australian media published leaked messages between Morrison and Macron that attempted to counter France’s claim that Australia had not warned it enough that the contract would be canceled. Read more
Thebault said the leaked messages represented an “unprecedented new low” and said it sent a worrying signal to heads of state that confidential correspondence could one day be “armed against you.”
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said Macron was wrong to accuse Morrison of lying.
“We had a great political leader who called the Australian Prime Minister a liar, and you can’t do it diplomatically,” Joyce told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It’s not a tin nation in the middle of nowhere … if someone calls you a liar, what are you going to do? You have to stand up for them and say you’re not.”
US President Joe Biden said last week that the handling of the new pact had been awkward, adding that he believed France had been informed of the contract cancellation before the new pact was announced.
Reporting by Jonathan Barrett, Colin Packham and Renju Jose; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Michael Perry
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