Australia, France escalate war of words over cancellation of submarine deal

Geopolitical updates

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his decision to reverse an underwater deal with the French government as acrimony escalated over Canberra’s decision to sign a new security pact with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Morrison said he “does not regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first” in comments which came just hours after France, which rants over being excluded from the pact , derided the role of the United Kingdom.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that Paris recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra on Friday, but considered it unnecessary to do the same in London because “we [the UK’s] permanent opportunism.

“Great Britain is in this case a bit like the fifth wheel coupling of the coach,” Le Drian said on France 2.

As a sign that Washington wants to defuse the worsening crisis, it emerged on Sunday that US President Joe Biden had requested an appeal with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the submarine deal.

Australia announced on Wednesday that it had canceled a $ 50 billion Australian-French deal for 12 conventional submarines that had been in the works for five years and that it would instead develop at least eight nuclear-powered submarines. with the United States and the United Kingdom as part of a trilateral agreement excluding France.

The so-called Aukus Pact – which is designed to deal with China’s growing power in the Indo-Pacific – sparked fury in Paris, where a French diplomat said France hadn’t been. informed that Wednesday morning despite attempts to glean information from US officials in the past. days.

Morrison denied having been dishonest with the French government as the signing of the so-called Aukus agreement approaches, affirming that he had expressed his concerns about the Franco-Australian submarine program “a few months ago”.

“They would have had every reason to know that we deeply fear that the capability provided by the Attack-class submarine does not meet our strategic interests,” he told a press conference on Sunday. “We made it clear that we would make a decision based on our strategic national interest. “

Le Drian said: “There has been a lie, there has been duplicity, there has been a major breach of trust, there has been contempt, so it’s not right between us, it’s not right. at all. It means there is a crisis.

Clément Beaune, French Minister for Europe, said: “I do not see how we can trust our Australian partner. . . The word, signing a contract is worth something. If we no longer have confidence, we cannot move forward.

On Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit “Global Britain” ambitions, Beaune told a state television channel: “As you can see, this is a return to the American fold and the acceptance of a form of vassal status.

Liz Truss, the new British Foreign Secretary, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that the Aukus Pact showed Britain’s willingness “to have a tough head to defend our interests and challenge unfair practices and deeds malicious ”.

The article makes no mention of France or China, but Johnson’s foreign policy is set to be tested as he prepares to meet US President Joe Biden in the White House next week.

UK officials insist the Aukus Pact was motivated by security concerns and the UK was ‘fundamental’ to the whole plan, but it was not a snub for Paris . “We didn’t want to annoy the French,” said one of them.

Tensions with Macron are already high after Brexit – especially over the Northern Ireland protocol – and British officials are bracing for more “turbulence before and beyond” next year’s presidential elections.

Rising tensions with China could also complicate Johnson’s attempts to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to back ambitious climate change plans at the UN COP26 summit in November in Glasgow.

Alok Sharma, the UK’s summit chairman, admitted on Sunday that it was “not yet confirmed” that President Xi would attend. Xi has not traveled outside his country since January 2020. But Sharma told the BBC: “I certainly expect China to send a negotiating team to Glasgow.”

As early as June, French officials said they had repeatedly asked their Australian counterparts if they wanted to change the contract from conventional submarines to nuclear-powered submarines, which France is also making, but these questions were welcomed. by silence.

A French diplomat conceded that at a meeting on June 24, Australian officials questioned whether the Attack-class submarines under development are still suited to “an evolving and worsening threat environment.”

However, he stressed that there was no mention of a “demand to switch from conventional to nuclear. [submarines] and the question was never raised to pass from a bilateral[eral] chat with us at a trilat[eral] with the United States and the United Kingdom.

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton has previously said he was motivated to take the submarine deal in a different direction, with new partners, because the “French have a version that was not greater than that exploited by the United States “. [and] The United Kingdom”.

Concerns had also been covering cost increases and delays in the Franco-Australian program for some time.

French officials and business executives strongly objected to the idea that operational issues underpin Australia’s move, saying they were resolved earlier this year.

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