Australia to France: You knew we had doubts about submarine deal

Australia pushed back Sunday against France’s cries of betrayal over a canceled submarine deal, arguing Paris should have been well aware of Canberra’s reservations.

“I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack Class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests,” Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Sunday, according to Agence-France Presse.

“We made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest. I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. Never will,” he added.

Morrison’s comments are the latest in an escalating diplomatic crisis between France, Australia and the United States over Canberra’s cancellation of a deal worth more than €50 billion with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of submarines. The move came after Washington, London and Canberra announced a landmark pact to foster cooperation on military technology.

Saturday evening, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian slammed — yet again — Australia and the U.S. on TV channel France 2.

“There has been a lie, there has been duplicity, there has been a major breach of trust, there has been contempt,” he said, alluding to media reports that the countries had hidden months of negotiations from France. Earlier Saturday, France’s Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thébault had likened the deal cancellation to “treason.”

Other Australian top officials similarly rejected the French accusations that the Australian government had lied.

Canberra was “upfront, open and honest” with Paris about concerns over the deal, Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton claimed on Sunday, Reuters reported.

Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said France was informed about the deal’s fallout “at the earliest available opportunity before it became public.” He conceded, however, that the parallel negotiations with the U.S. were secret, given the “enormous sensitivities.”

Both sides have highlighted moments in the last few months to support their dueling allegations.

A high-level French diplomat said that during a June meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Morrison was evasive when asked whether Australia was considering switching to nuclear-powered submarines — a major impetus for Australia’s pact with the U.S. and Britain.

France also points to an August 30 joint statement from French and Australian defense and foreign affairs ministers that stressed the “importance” of the existing submarine deal.

Australians, for their part, note the country’s defense secretary, Greg Moriarty, publicly signaled in June that Canberra was considering its options. The Australian government also refused in April to sign a contract for the next phase of the French submarine project, asking for certain conditions to be met by September.

On Friday, France recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the U.S. in protest over the new pact.

Rym Momtaz contributed reporting.



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