France accused Australia of lying shortly before Canberra canceled a major submarine contract, with France’s foreign minister saying “someone lied”.
With no sign of imminent easing of tensions between the two countries, Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing that Australia had never expressed doubts about the $ 56 billion submarine contract. euros (AU $ 90 billion) or the Indo-Pacific Strategic Pact before breaking the Contract.
“Everything I have told you is confirmed by the letter I received on September 15 from the Australian Ministry of Defense saying that everything was fine, let’s continue,” Le Drian said.
The French foreign minister said this suggested that “someone lied”. He added: “Something is wrong and we don’t know what.”
Le Drian reiterated that the French contractor Naval Group had received a letter on the same day of the breach of the contract saying that Australia was “satisfied” with the strategic review of the submarines and was ready for the “swift signing of the second phase of the program “.
As a result, the decision to break the contract of several billion submarines was greeted with “astonishment” in France, he said.
The letter in question has not been made public. The Guardian has contacted the Australian
government for comment, but previously downplayed the letter’s importance.
Last week, a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Defense told the Guardian: “On September 15, 2021, Naval Group was informed that the official release of a system review had been completed in accordance with contractual provisions in effect at the time. “
The spokesperson added: “This correspondence did not refer to or authorize the start of the next phase of the program, which remained subject to the announcement of the decisions of the Australian government.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly defended the fallout from his membership in the UK and US for a new defense cooperation agreement for the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines.
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Morrison maintains that he acted in the interest of Australia’s national security at a time when strategic prospects are deteriorating in the Indo-Pacific, while acknowledging France’s “disappointment”.
But Le Drian said until the day of what he called “betrayal” France was reassured by Australia that all was well.
He reiterated that what was at stake was much more than a commercial contract and involved the broader strategic relationship between the two countries.
Le Drian said Australia had “asked for conventional submarines” as opposed to nuclear-powered ships. This is a reference to the specifications defined by the Australian government when it launched in 2015 a competitive evaluation process for the future submarine project.
“These are the facts and they speak for themselves,” Le Drian told an upper house foreign affairs, defense and armed forces committee, the Senate. He added that Australia’s decision to forgo a partnership with France for a pact with the United States meant that it had relinquished its defense sovereignty.
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Le Drian has repeatedly said that the Aukus agreement represents a “total loss of sovereignty” for Australia.
“It’s not just a breach of a contract, it’s a betrayal and a breach of trust,” he said.
“The effect is that Australia has given up sovereignty and taken a leap into the unknown with the choice of technology that it does not and will not control in the future. This puts him at the mercy of American politics.
Le Drian said France still did not know what role the UK would play in the project.
“The ball is in the British court. If they are to move forward, confidence must be restored.
Le Drian said France “expected strong action and not just words”. He said the French ambassador would return to Australia “when we have had a review”. The Ambassador to France is back in the United States this week. Both were recalled for consultations in France “to show the gravity of this betrayal and breach of trust”.
He said that the United States’ strategy in the Indo-Pacific was based on “confrontation, even military confrontation”, and said that France wanted to work with “other actors in the Indo-Pacific” to combat Chinese expansion in the region.
The minister said France had the support of the EU27. “They fully understood this crisis and it was not only friendly support with France… they realize what is at stake. This is a European strategic crisis.
Earlier, an Elysee official said any future discussions between Emmanuel Macron and Morrison over the fallout from Canberra’s decision to tear up the submarine deal should be “seriously prepared” and have “substance. “.
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan also struggled to secure a meeting with his French counterpart on an upcoming trip to Paris, where he will also attend meetings related to the OECD and the World Organization. trade. Tehan said on Saturday that “remains an open invitation.”