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French diplomats express anger at broken submarine contract

September 19, 2021

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian lamented the "duplicity, disdain and lies" from allies over the growing crisis. The French Ambassador to Australia said he read about the scuttled defense deal in the Australian press.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has expressed dismay over the collapse of a defense deal involving submarines with AustraliaImage: imago images/IP3press/V. Isore

France's foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, denounced the "duplicity, disdain and lies" on Saturday surrounding the collapse of a $66 billion (€56 billion) contract between France's state-owned Naval Group and the Australian government for conventional submarines.

Australia is now in favor of nuclear-propelled submarines made by the United States, scuttling the French defense deal inked in 2016.

French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Joe Biden will discuss the issue during a phone call in the coming days, a French government spokesperson said on Sunday. 

On Friday, France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia, but not the UK, in an unprecedented move on Macron's orders.

What did Le Drian say?

In an interview with France 2 television on Saturday evening, Le Drian declared the situation a crisis and suggested a backroom deal had betrayed France.

He denied there had been advance consultations with France before the announcement.

"This isn't true," he said.

US President Joe Biden, joined virtually by Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, last week announces the new nuclear submarine deal and a related defense alliance, upsetting France
US President Joe Biden and Australian PM Scott Morrison announced the new sub deal and defense alliance earlier this week, sparking ire from FranceImage: Oliver Contreras/abaca/picture alliance

In making the announcement of the new defense and security deal on Wednesday, Biden noted a raft of related security arrangements between Australia, the UK and the US, including the formation of the AUKUS alliance.

Le Drian added it was wrong for allies to behave with "such brutality, such unpredictability."

"There are reasons for us to question the strength of our alliance," he said.

France blindsided by US-Australian submarine deal: Sonia Phalnikar reports

French ambassador decries 'huge mistake'

Jean-Pierre Thebault, France's ambassador to Australia, said he read the news of the canceled contract in the Australian media.

"This has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of the partnership," Thebault said before departing for France.

"I would like to be able to run into a time machine and be in a situation where we don't end up in such an incredible, clumsy, inadequate, un-Australian situation," he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron and then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the deck of a Collins-class submarine operated by the Royal Australian Navy in 2018
French President Emmanuel Macron and then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the deck of a Collins-class submarine operated by the Royal Australian Navy in 2018Image: Brendan Eposito/POOL/AFP

The deal's collapse is also a setback in other ways for France.

There has long been hope in Paris that France could be more of a geopolitical player. Macron has argued for "strategic autonomy" in European defense.

ar/rs (AP, dpa, Reuters)