French ambassador likens submarine deal cancellation to ‘treason’

French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thébault publicly chided Australia on Saturday for canceling a multibillion-euro submarine contract with Paris after striking up a strategic partnership with the U.S. and the U.K.

“We have been blind-sided intentionally for 18 months,” Thébault told The Sydney Morning Herald in an interview published Saturday, citing media reports indicating the U.S. and Australia held private talks for months about the partnership while keeping France in the dark. “The crime was prepared for 18 months.”

He called the months of negotiation “treason in the making” obfuscated through “intentional double language.”

Thébault was lashing out hours before being recalled to Paris in protest of Australia’s decision, which was announced Wednesday. The landmark pact, dubbed AUKUS, included pledges to cooperate on military technology and paves the way for Australia to purchase nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S. As a result, Australia ditched an existing contract with France worth more than €50 billion.

“It is a major breach of confidence and a very bad signal,” Thébault said.

Separately in Canberra on Saturday, Thébault told journalists that the move “has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of the partnership — because it wasn’t a contract, it was a partnership that was supposed to be based on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity.”

The cutting remarks are the latest French officials have heaped on Australia — and the U.S. — since Wednesday. French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the deal a “stab in the back” on Thursday and the country recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia on Friday.

“This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” Le Drian said in a statement.

The French embassy in Washington also canceled a reception it had planned to host on Friday to mark the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Chesapeake, which commemorates a French naval victory over a British fleet during the American Revolution.

Le Drian will be in New York Monday to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. 

Rym Momtaz contributed reporting.



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