Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday rejected France’s accusations. Canberra lied about plans to cancel a contract to buy French submarines, saying it had raised concerns about the deal “a few months ago.”
Australia’s decision to break a deal for French submarines in favor of US nuclear-powered vessels sparked outrage in Paris, and President Emmanuel Macron withdrew France’s ambassadors in Canberra and Washington in an unprecedented move.
Canberra stood firm as France issued treason charges, and Morrison insisted that he and his ministers had previously communicated their problems over French ships.
“I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns that the capability the Attack Class submarine was delivering was not going to meet our strategic interests and we made it very clear that we would make a decision based on our strategic national interest,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Morrison’s comments came after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian used clearly undiplomatic language toward Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, which is also part of a new three-way security pact. announced on Wednesday that led to the breakup.
“There have been lies, duplicity, a great breach of trust and contempt,” Le Drian told France 2 television. “This will not do it.”
He described the withdrawal of the ambassadors for the first time in the history of relations with the countries as a “very symbolic” act that aimed to “show how unhappy we are and that there is a serious crisis among us.”
The French contract to supply conventional submarines to Australia was worth A $ 50 billion ($ 36.5 billion, € 31 billion) when it was signed in 2016.
Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment, but added: “I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. I never will.”
Prime Minister Morrison defends decision to cancel submarine contract with France
As Australia went on the offensive over Sunday’s decision, Defense Minister Peter Dutton insisted that Canberra had been “direct, open and honest” with Paris about its concerns about the deal.
Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said his country had informed the French government “at the earliest available opportunity, before it was made public”.
“We do not underestimate the importance now of … ensuring that we reestablish those strong ties with the French government and its counterparts in the future,” he added. “Because your continued engagement in this region is important.”
‘The third wheel’
Le Drian also issued a tough response to a question about why France had not called its ambassador to Britain, which was also part of the security pact known as AUKUS.
“We have called our ambassadors to (Canberra and Washington) to reassess the situation. With Britain, there is no need. We know their constant opportunism. So there is no need to bring our ambassador back to explain,” he said.
On London’s role in the pact under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he mockingly added: “Britain in all of this is a bit like the third wheel.”
NATO would have to consider what happened while reconsidering strategy at a summit in Madrid next year, he added.
France would now prioritize developing an EU security strategy when it assumes the bloc’s presidency in early 2022, he said.
Admiral Rob Bauer, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, previously downplayed the dangers, saying it is unlikely to have an impact on “military cooperation” within the alliance.
‘Stab in the back’
US President Joe Biden announced the new Australia-US-Britain defense alliance, in a partnership seen as aimed at countering the rise of China.
It extends US nuclear submarine technology to Australia, as well as cyber defense, applied artificial intelligence and underwater capabilities.
Le Drian described it as a “backstabbing” and said the Biden administration’s behavior had been comparable to that of Donald Trump, whose sudden changes in policy long exasperated European allies.
The dispute has caused a deep rift in America’s oldest alliance and dashed hopes for a post-Donald Trump revival in Paris-Washington relations under Biden.
State Department spokesman Ned Price on Saturday highlighted the “unwavering” commitment of the United States to its alliance with France.
“We hope to continue our discussion on this issue at the top level in the coming days, including at the UNGA next week,” he said, referring to the United Nations General Assembly, which will be attended by both Le Drian and Secretary of State. from the United States, Antony Blinken.
Australia has also shrugged off China’s ire over its decision to acquire the nuclear-powered submarines, while vowing to uphold the rule of law in the airspace and waters where Beijing has made highly controversial claims.
Beijing described the new alliance as an “extremely irresponsible” threat to regional stability, questioning Australia’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and warning Western allies that they risk “shooting themselves in the foot.”