PARIS — France’s foreign minister denounced what he called the “duplicity, disdain and lies” surrounding the sudden rupture of France’s lucrative contract to make submarines for Australia in favor of a U.S. deal and declared that a crisis is at hand among the Western allies.
A day after France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian pummeled what he suggested was a backroom deal that betrayed France.
The recalling of its ambassadors “signifies the force of the crisis today” between the French government and Washington and Canberra, he said in an interview on France 2 television Saturday. He said it was the first time ever that France, the United States’ oldest ally, has recalled its ambassador to the U.S.
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The announcement by President Joe Biden of the deal, alongside the leaders of Australia and Britain, for at least eight nuclear-powered submarines has set France in a fury.
The French had signed a contract in 2016 for a dozen conventional diesel-electric submarines and the work to make them was already underway. The deal with French majority state-owned Naval Group was worth at least $66 billion.
“I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison Sunday.
Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment but reiterated that Australia must always take decisions in its best interest.
“This is an issue that had been raised by me directly some months ago and we continued to talk those issues through,” Morrison told a briefing.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Peter Dutton are currently in the United States for annual talks with their U.S. counterparts and their first with Biden’s administration.
Dutton said on Sunday that Australia was “upfront, open and honest” with France about its concerns over the deal and had been raising concerns for a couple of years.
“Suggestions that the concerns hadn’t been flagged by the Australian government, just defy, frankly, what’s on the public record and certainly what they’ve said publicly over a long period of time,” Dutton told Sky News.
But diplomatic niceties have gone out the window as French authorities seek to make their anger known.
Le Drian denied reports that there had been advance consultations with France ahead of the announcement, saying “this isn’t true.”
Allies “don’t treat each other with such brutality, such unpredictability, a major partner like France,” Le Drian said. “So there really is a crisis.”
“There are reasons for us to question the strength of our alliance,” Le Drian said.
What French officials have called a complex, multi-layered contract was about more than submarines. It was the underpinning for France’s vision of the critical Indo-Pacific region, where France has a presence and China is looking to bolster its influence.
The Naval Group said in a statement that consequences of the contract cancelation would be analyzed with Australia “in the coming days.” It noted that teams in France and Australia have been at work on the project for the past five years.
Australian employees working with Naval Group and their families have set up home in the Normandy port of Cherbourg. A union official, David Robin, told BFMTV that employees were informed there may be an option to keep them on.