Paris, September 19 (BNA) The French Foreign Minister denounced today, Saturday, what he described as “duplicity, contempt and lies” surrounding the sudden break-up of France’s lucrative contract to build submarines for Australia in favor of a US deal, and declared that a crisis is at hand between Western allies.
A day after France recalled its ambassador to the United States and Australia, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian criticized what he suggested was a secret deal that betrayed France, the Associated Press reported.
He said in an interview with France 2 television that the recall of its ambassadors “demonstrates the strength of the crisis today” between the French government, Washington and Canberra. He said it was the first time ever that France, the United States’ oldest ally, had recalled its ambassador to the United States.
President Joe Biden’s announcement of the deal, along with the leaders of Australia and Britain, of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, angered France. The French signed a contract in 2016 for dozens of conventional diesel-electric submarines and work on their manufacture was already under way. The deal with French state-owned group Naval Group, which is majority-owned, was worth at least $66 billion.
Diplomatic courtesies vanished from the window as French authorities sought to express their anger.
Le Drian denied reports that prior consultations were held with France before the announcement, saying, “This is not true.”
“Allies don’t treat each other with such brutality, and unpredictability, as a major partner like France…so there is already a crisis,” Le Drian said.
“There are reasons for us to question the strength of our alliance,” Le Drian said.
Earlier, France’s ambassador to Australia also deviated from diplomatic language when describing what was widely described in France as the “decade of the century”.
“This was a huge mistake, and a very poor handling of the partnership,” French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thibault said before returning to France.
Thibault said angrily that the arms agreement between France and Australia, signed in 2016, was supposed to be based on “trust, mutual understanding and honesty.” “I’d like to be able to take on a time machine and be in a position where we don’t end up in such an amazing, clumsy, inappropriate, un-Australian situation.”
He said he learned about the canceled contract in the Australian press.
In a written statement Friday, Le Drian said the French decision to recall its ambassadors – at the request of President Emmanuel Macron – was “justified by the exceptional seriousness of the declarations” made by Australia and the United States.
What French officials described as a complex, multi-layered contract was about more than just submarines. It has been the mainstay of France’s vision of the Indo-Pacific region, where France has a presence and China looks to enhance its influence.
Naval Group said in a statement that the consequences of canceling the contract will be analyzed with Australia “in the coming days”. He noted that teams in France and Australia have been working on the project for the past five years.
Australian employees of the Naval Group and their families have made their homes in the Normandy port of Cherbourg. A union official, David Rubin, told BFMTV that employees have been informed that there may be an option to keep them on duty.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office earlier issued a statement in response to the diplomat’s recall and noted Canberra’s “regret” for its ally’s withdrawal of its representative.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and stated national security interests,” the statement said. He added that Australia values its relationship with France and looks forward to future engagements together.
Payne and Defense Secretary Peter Dutton are currently in the United States for annual talks with their American counterparts and their first talks with the Biden administration.
After the US deal was announced this week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he told Macron in June that there were “very real issues about whether conventional submarine capability” would meet Australia’s strategic security needs in the Indo-Pacific.
Morrison did not specifically refer to China’s massive military buildup, which has accelerated in recent years.
Morrison was in Paris on his way home from the G7 summit in Britain where he held talks with Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Thibault said he was also at the meeting with Macron and Morrison.
“There have been changes in the regional situation,” Morrison said, but did not indicate that Australia was considering a change to nuclear propulsion, Thibault said.
“Everything was supposed to be done with complete transparency between the two partners,” he added.
Australian opposition MP Mark Dreyfus has called on the Australian government to mend its relationship with France.
“The impact on our relationship with France is a matter of concern, particularly as a country with important interests in our region,” Dreyfus said. “The French were shocked by this decision and Mr Morrison should have done more to protect the relationship.”