France accused Australia of lying shortly before Canberra canceled a major submarine contract, and the French foreign minister stated that “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 euros (A $ 90 billion) submarine contract or the strategic pact. of the Indo-Pacific before breaking the agreement. contract.
“Everything I have told you is confirmed by the letter I received on September 15 from the Australian defense ministry saying that everything is fine, let’s continue,” Le Drian said.
The French chancellor 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 the same day the contract was broken saying Australia was “satisfied” with the strategic review of the submarines and was ready for the “rapid signing of the second phase of the program” .
As a result, the decision to break the multi-million dollar submarine contract was greeted with “stupor” in France, he said.
The letter in question has not been made public. The Guardian has reached out to the Australian government for comment, but has previously downplayed the meaning of the letter.
Last week, a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Defense told The Guardian: “On September 15, 2021, the Naval Group was informed that a formal exit from a system review had been achieved as required by the contractual agreements. current at that time. “
The spokesperson added: “This correspondence did not refer to or authorize the start of the next phase of the program, which was subject to the announcement of decisions by the Australian government.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly defended the consequences of his union with the UK and the US for a new defense cooperation agreement to deliver nuclear powered submarines.
Morrison maintains that he acted in defense of Australia’s national security interests at a time of worsening strategic prospects in the Indo-Pacific, while acknowledging France’s “disappointment”.
But Le Drian said that until the day of what he described as a “betrayal”, France was being 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 “ordered conventional submarines” rather than nuclear-powered vessels. That’s a reference to the specifications set out by the Australian government when it launched a competitive evaluation process for the future subsea project in 2015.
“These are the facts and they speak for themselves,” Le Drian told an upper house Foreign Relations, Defense and Armed Forces Committee, the Senat. He added that Australia’s decision to renounce a partnership with France for a pact with the United States meant that it had renounced its defense sovereignty.
Le Drian repeated several times that the Aukus agreement represented a “total loss of sovereignty” for Australia.
“It is not just the breaking of a contract, it is a betrayal and a breach of trust,” he said.
“The effect is that Australia has abandoned its sovereignty and taken a leap into the unknown with the choice of technology that it does not control and will not control in the future. This puts him at the mercy of American politics. “
Le Drian said France did not yet know what role the UK would play in the project.
“The ball is in the British field. If they want to move forward, it is necessary to rebuild trust ”.
Le Drian said France was “waiting for strong actions and not just words.” He said the French ambassador would return to Australia “when we have had a review.” The ambassador to France returns to the United States this week. Both were called to consultations in France “to show the seriousness of this betrayal and breach of trust.”
He said the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific was based on “confrontation, even military confrontation,” and said 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 perfectly understood this crisis and this was not just a friendly support with France… they realize what is at stake. This is a strategic European crisis ”.
Earlier, an Elysee official said that any future conversation between Emmanuel Macron and Morrison about the consequences of Canberra’s decision to break the submarine deal would have to be “seriously prepared” and have “substance.”
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan has also struggled to secure a meeting with his French counterpart during an upcoming trip to Paris, where he will also attend OECD and World Trade Organization related meetings. Tehan said Saturday that “it is still an open invitation.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism