Australia seeks dialogue with France amid submarine deal rift

(Update 1: Adds trade minister comments in pars 1-4, new headline, minor edits)

Sydney, Australia, Sep 20 (EFE).- Australia’s trade minister said on Monday that he seeks dialogue with his French counterpart amid a diplomatic rift caused by Canberra’s decision to scrap a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with France’s Naval Group.

Dan Tehan said he also expected that his country could continue its free-trade agreement negotiations with the European Union (EU), despite the diplomatic crisis with one of the bloc’s members.

Tehan will travel to Paris next month for a ministerial-level Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development meeting and negotiations on the trade agreement with the EU in Brussels, a trip during which he hopes to explain to the government of Emmanuel Macron the reasons behind its submarine decision.

“Obviously, we’ll be very keen to touch base with my French counterpart [Franck Riester] while I’m in France,” the minister said in an interview with national broadcaster ABC.

“We understand the disappointment in France at the moment with this decision, but I think also, what everyone has to understand is that we’ve taken a decision which we firmly believe is in our own sovereign, nationals interests.”

The suspension of the $66 billion contract with the state-owned Naval Group came to light after the announcement last week of a defense agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and United States (AUKUS), which includes the development of nuclear-powered submarines for Canberra.

Afterwards, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Australia and the US of “lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt” and on Friday Paris announced the recall of its ambassadors to the two countries.

France’s ambassador to Canberra said Monday that his country felt “fooled” by Australia.

“We discover through [the] press that the most important person of this Australian government kept us in the dark intentionally until the last minute. This is not an Australian attitude towards France. And maybe we’re not friends,” Jean-Pierre Thebault said in an interview with ABC from Paris.

“This was a plot in the making for 18 months. At the same time while we were engaged with making the best of this [submarine] program where France committed its most well-kept military secrets … there was a complete other project that we discovered, thanks to the press, one hour before the announcement. So you can imagine our anger – we felt fooled,” Thebault added.

He said that the French government was the last to learn of Australia’s agreement with the US and the UK and stressed that “it’s a question of principle, it’s a question of dignity and mutual respect in relations between states.”

Some countries in the Indo-Pacific region have expressed concern at the signing of the ambitious AUKUS defense agreement, which will equip the Oceanian country’s fleet with nuclear-powered submarines.

North Korea on Monday condemned the move, describing the pact and the submarine plan as “extremely undesirable and dangerous acts which will upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and trigger off a chain of nuclear arms race.”

Meanwhile, Malaysia and Indonesia said on Sunday that the agreement could cause other powers to act more aggressively in the region, especially in the troubled South China Sea. EFE


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