French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Scott Morrison of lying about the submarine deal, prompting the Australian prime minister to launch a furious rebuttal of what he called “insults” and “sleds.”
Let’s take a look below the sound bites to try and figure out what the heck has happened.
Why is Macron so upset?
First, the basics. The French contract with Australia to provide 12 conventionally powered submarines has been big business for France, financially and strategically, since it started in 2016. The total value of the submarine project was estimated at almost $ A90 billion (although that figure includes all associated expenses).
It is therefore natural for a French president to be upset when Australia revealed that it had decided to scrap the contract and would instead partner with the US and the UK to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines (pending). an 18-month study).
That’s a huge loss, but is there any other reason why France reacted so strongly?
Yes. The French government has objected to the way the partnership with Aukus was secretly negotiated, claiming that she was “stabbed in the back” in the process and not respected as a close partner. He has argued that it was said only at the eleventh hour without a real opportunity for consultation.
One of the most controversial encounters is Morrison’s meeting and dinner with Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris in June.
What do we know about the Morrison and Macron talks in Paris?
Morrison went to Paris just days after Morrison had his own trilateral meeting with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Carbis Bay in the UK. (We now know that the leaders of Australia, the US, and the UK were talking about what would later become the Aukus deal.)
We know that Australia’s concerns about the submarine program were discussed between Morrison and Macron. Both parties also agree that Morrison raised concerns about the deteriorating strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific region. But the two parties have different interpretations of what came of that.
French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thébault previously told Guardian Australia that this was not the end of the conversation: “The prime minister, to our knowledge, noted that there were questions about the evolution of the situation in the region. … But what was agreed is that this conversation would continue ”.
Here is the account provided by Morrison when speaking to reporters in Glasgow on Monday: “Now, at the time, I made it very clear that a conventional diesel-powered submarine would not meet Australia’s strategic requirements. We discussed it frankly. “
But Morrison told reporters that it was not his place to point out the emerging plan B (the nuclear-powered submarines backed by the United States and the United Kingdom) at that stage: “I did not discuss what other alternatives we were considering. They were confidential and subject to the security arrangements we had on those other conversations. “
Did Morrison give any indication of abandoning the French deal in June?
With the benefit of hindsight, maybe a little hint. Speaking to reporters shortly after the Paris meeting in June, Morrison did not rule out abandoning the project when the next contractual milestone was reached, but he also seemed to imply that the sticking points were being resolved.
Morrison said he appreciated that the French president was “taking a very active role” in resolving problems with the contract. “President Macron and I have a very, very open, very transparent and very friendly relationship where we can speak frankly on these issues,” Morrison said on June 16.
When asked if he was leaving Paris with more or less confidence in the submarine program, Morrison said: “I leave knowing that we have adequately posed the challenges that we must tackle, so now we must work on that basis.”
What was happening behind the scenes?
Morrison told reporters Monday that the French defense system “jumped into action” the day after dinner on the Elysee to try to address the project’s problems, including sending a French admiral to Australia “to try to save the contract”.
“So if there was no concern about the contract threat, Admiral Morio would never have come to Australia,” Morrison said.
Morrison said the Australian government “eventually formed the opinion that we would agree to disagree” and that the French Strike-class submarine “would not meet our requirements.”
Has France made any other complaints about the opening of Australia?
Yes. In late August, just two weeks before the Aukus announcement, Australian ministers Marise Payne and Peter Dutton met via video link with their French counterparts to announce ever closer ties (it was the first “2 + 2” meeting between both sides).
According to the joint official statement, which were obviously agreed upon by France and Australia, the four ministers “underscored the importance of the future submarine program.”
Thebault, the French ambassador, has said that it is now clear that “there was no sincerity in the discussion.”
What about the letter Australia sent hours before Aukus was announced?
France complained that one of the reasons it was surprised was because Australian officials had informed the French contractor hours earlier of the progress on the submarine contract.
In the letter, sent on September 15, the general director of the future submarine program confirmed that the output of a review of one aspect of the project “has been achieved as required in the Submarine Design Contract.” But the letter also included a warning that “the matters discussed in this correspondence do not grant any authorization to continue working.”
According to Senate estimates last week, Australian Defense Department Secretary Greg Moriarty said there had been “a number of engagements with French officials about our thinking about capacity requirements”, but added: “I did not discuss the cancellation of the Attack program with no French Officials before the night before [the announcement]. “
Moriarty described the Naval Group’s reaction when informed hours later as follows: “They were shocked and disappointed, understandably.”
How did a text message from Macron to Morrison get leaked? And what did it show?
Hours before Morrison’s press conference responding to Macron on Monday, The Sydney Daily Telegraph reported on the content of a text message the prime minister received from the French president two days before Aukus’ announcement. With this account, Macron texted Morrison that he was unavailable at the time Australia had requested a call and wrote “:” Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions? “
When asked Monday why the decision to publish the text message was made, Morrison said, “I’m not going to let your publisher do it.” But Morrison added that the message “made it quite clear that [Macron] he was concerned ”that the contract would be canceled.
The post appears to be designed to show that Aukus’ decision did not come out of nowhere. But another reading is that Macron did not know, two days before, in which direction the Australian government was leaning. Morrison responded to Macron that it was important for the couple to speak up. When a time could not be set, Morrison said he sent a text message letter describing the decision to Macron.
What is being done to repair the damage?
France is asking the Australian government to propose “tangible actions” to heal the diplomatic gap.
On Monday, Australia’s foreign minister met for more than an hour with the French ambassador to begin the process, but that effort may be undermined by some senior members of the government who have downplayed the significance of Australia’s decision in terms. theater, and now for Morrison’s strong rejection of Macron’s comments.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism