Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Sunday said that the country had been “upfront, open and honest” with France about its concerns regarding the now scrapped submarine deal between the two nations, Reuters reported.
On Wednesday, Australia had announced a trilateral pact with the United States and the United Kingdom. Under the deal, Australia will receive a nuclear-powered submarine fleet from the US.
However, the Australian government entered the deal by scrapping a 2016 agreement, under which it had selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion (over Rs 2.94 lakh crore).
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Australia of “stabbing in the back” and criticised the US for its “unilateral, sudden and unforeseeable decision”.
Over the last few days, the new deal has led to a multinational diplomatic crisis.
In an unprecedented move, French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday recalled the country’s ambassadors to Australia and the US. Diplomatic relations experts cited by Reuters opined that the move could prove to be a jolt in Washington’s efforts to rally European countries against China.
The US-UK-Australia deal focuses on the concerns of these countries about China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region. On the other hand, France itself holds overseas territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the region.
However, amid these developments, Australian defence minister on Sunday said that they had been raising concerns about the submarine deal with France for a couple of years.
“Suggestions that the concerns had not been flagged by the Australian government, just defy, frankly, what is on the public record and certainly what they have said publicly over a long period of time,” Dutton added.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Finance Minister Simon Birmingham acknowledged on Sunday that negotiations about their deal with the US and UK had been secret due to the “enormous sensitivities”.
‘Serious political act,’ says France
On Saturday, France reiterated its criticism of the US and Australia as Le Drian accused the countries of “duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt”, the BBC reported.
In an interview to France 2 television, the French defence minister said that the withdrawal of the country’s ambassadors from the US and Australia was a “very symbolic” move aimed at showing how unhappy Paris was. He added that the ambassadors were called back to “re-evaluate the situation”.
“The fact that for the first time in the history of relations between the United States and France we are recalling our ambassador for consultations is a serious political act, which shows the magnitude of the crisis that exists now between our countries,” he said.
Le Drian said that Paris saw no need to recall its ambassador from the UK as the country was, according to the French defence minister, a “bit like the third wheel”.