France’s ambassador to Australia calls the deal a ‘huge mistake’
In what France’s ambassador to Australia described as a “big mistake”, Australia surprisingly canceled a major submarine contract in favor of a US deal, delivering a final protest as anger among the Allies escalated. The envoy was recalled from the country in an unprecedented demonstration.
Jean-Pierre Thébault made his remarks as he left his residence in Canberra’s capital amid the pandemic.
“It has been a huge mistake, a very poor management of the partnership,” Thebault said, explaining that the arms agreement between Paris and Canberra was supposed to be “based on trust, mutual understanding and honesty”.
France recalls US and Australia ambassadors in response to Aukus nuclear submarine deal
Paris recalled its ambassadors in Australia and the United States to protest an agreement between the United States, Australia and Britain to supply Australia with a fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.
Thebault took off from Australia on a flight to Doha, Qatar, about 17 hours after the announcement from Paris.
The US deal canceled a 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) contract with the French-majority state-owned Naval Group signed in 2016 to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.
“I want to be able to walk into a time machine and be in a position where we don’t end up in such an unreliable, clumsy, inadequate, un-Australian situation,” said the French ambassador.
Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne’s office had earlier issued a statement noting Canberra’s “sorry” over the diplomat’s recall and his aide taking back his representative.
French foreign minister calls US-Australia submarine deal a ‘stab in the back’
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests,” the statement said. It added that Australia values its relationship with France and looks forward to a future engagement together.
Payne and Defense Secretary Peter Dutton are currently in the United States for annual talks with their American counterparts and for the first time with President Joe Biden’s administration.
Before being called back, French envoy Thébault said on Friday that he learned of the US submarine deal: “Like everyone else, thank you to the Australian press.”
“We were never informed of any major changes,” Thebault said. “There were many opportunities and many channels. This kind of change was never mentioned.”
After the US deal was made public this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had told French President Emmanuel Macron in June that there were “very real issues about whether a conventional submarine capability” would allow Australia in the Indo-Pacific. Strategic security will meet the needs.
Morrison did not specifically mention China’s massive military build-up, which had gained momentum in recent years.
France expresses displeasure over nuclear submarine deal between US, UK, Australia
Morrison was in Paris on his way home from the Group of Seven summit in Britain, where he held talks with soon-to-be coalition partners Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Thebault said he was also in the meeting with Macron and Morrison.
Morrison noted that “there were changes in the regional situation,” but gave no indication that Australia was considering switching to nuclear propulsion, Thebault said.
“Everything should have been done with complete transparency between the two partners,” he said.
Thebault said the difficulties faced by the project were common to its scale and large transfer of technologies.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Friday that the recall of the two ambassadors at Macron’s request was justified by the “extraordinary seriousness” of the announcements made by Australia and the United States.
Le Drian said Australia’s decision to cancel the purchase of the submarine in favor of a nuclear subscription built with American technology is “an unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”
Senior opposition MP Mark Dreyfus called on the Australian government to fix its ties with France.
“The impact on our relations with France is a matter of concern, especially as a country with significant interests in our region,” Dreyfus said.
“France was blinded by the decision and Mr Morrison should have done more to protect the relationship,” he said.