CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia said on Saturday it regretted to note France’s recall of its ambassador following the surprise cancellation of a submarine contract in favor of a US deal.
France recalled its ambassadors to Australia and the United States on Friday in an unprecedented display of anger over an agreement between the United States, Australia and Britain to provide Australia with a fleet of at least eight sub- nuclear sailors.
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.
The office of Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement: “We note with regret the decision of France to recall its ambassador to Australia for consultations following the decision on the Attack Class project.”
“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.
French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault said Australia had never mentioned the project could be scrapped.
Thebault told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview recorded on Friday he found out about the US submarine deal: “Like everyone else, thank you 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 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.
“The relationship between France and Australia has been built on trust,” Thebault said.
“So basically it was all built on trust. Everything had to be done in full transparency between the two partners, ”he added.
Thebault said the difficulties with the project were normal given its scale and significant technology transfers.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement 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, especially 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. The (…) government must explain what it is going to do to repair this important relationship, ”he added.