CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – The French ambassador to Australia has called a “huge mistake” the surprise cancellation by Australia of a major submarine contract in favor of a US agreement, as the diplomat was preparing to leave the country in a manifestation of unprecedented anger among the allies.
French envoy Jean-Pierre Thebault delivered his comments on Saturday as he left his residence in the capital of Canberra.
“It was a huge mistake, a very, very mismanagement of the partnership,” said Thebault, explaining that the arms deal between Paris and Canberra was supposed to be based “on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity.” .
Paris recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the United States on Friday to protest an agreement between the United States, Australia and Britain to provide Australia with a fleet of at least eight nuclear submarines.
The agreement cancels a 90 billion Australian dollars (66 billion dollars) contract with Naval Group, majority owned by the French state, signed in 2016, for the construction of 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.
“I wish I could run into a time machine and be in a situation where we didn’t find ourselves in such an incredible, awkward, inadequate and un-Australian situation,” added the French ambassador.
The office of Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne earlier issued a statement in response to the diplomat’s recall and noting Canberra’s “regrets” over the ally’s withdrawal of its ally.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment at our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated 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 with President Joe Biden’s administration.
Before his recall, the French envoy Thebault said on Friday that he had discovered the agreement on American submarines: “Like everyone else, thanks to the Australian press”.
“We were never told of any substantial changes,” Thebault said. “There were many opportunities and many channels. Never has such a change been mentioned.
After the US deal was made public this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he told French President Emanuel Macron in June that there were “very real issues as to whether a conventional submarine capability” would meet Australia’s strategic security needs in the Indo-Pacific.
Morrison did not specifically refer to the massive military build-up in China that has accelerated in recent years.
Morrison was in Paris on his way back from a Group of Seven summit in Britain where he met with future alliance partners Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Thebault said he also attended the meeting with Macron and Morrison.
Morrison mentioned “that there have been changes in the regional situation”, but gave no indication that Australia was considering switching to nuclear propulsion, Thebault said.
“Everything had to be done in full transparency between the two partners,” he added.
Thebault said the difficulties encountered by the project were normal given its scale and large technology transfers.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Friday that the recall of the two ambassadors, at Macron’s request, “is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States .
Le Drian said Australia’s decision to abandon the purchase of submarines in favor of nuclear submarines built with US technology was “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”
Senior opposition MP Mark Dreyfus called on the Australian government to restore relations with France.
“The impact on our relations with France is a concern, in particular as a country with important interests in our region,” said Dreyfus.
“The French were taken aback by this decision and Mr. Morrison should have done a lot more to protect the relationship,” he added.