French ambassador criticises 'childish' Australia over submarine secrecy

Australia Ludovic MARIN AFPFile
OCT 8, 2021 LISTEN
Ludovic MARIN AFPFile

Australia's claim that it was impossible to inform France of its top-secret talks with the US and Britain to build nuclear submarines is "childish", the French envoy to Australia said on Friday as he prepares to return to Canberra with a mandate to re-evaluate diplomatic relations.

France's ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, was recalled to Paris last month after Australia walked away from a 56 billion euro deal to build a fleet of French submarines, opting instead for a pact with the US and UK.

The cancellation angered France, which accused Australia and the United States of "stabbing it in the back" by holding talks without informing them.

Ahead of his return to Canberra, Thebault told Australia's ABC radio on Friday that France was a close security partner of the United States, Australia and Britain, and could be trusted with delicate information.

"It's childish to say that it was impossible to consult France," he said, adding that US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had conceded the matter could have been handled better.

"They have officially stated things should have been done differently. There should have been consultations."

Thebault also said he was being sent back to Canberra with instructions to re-evalute the diplomatic relationship between the two countries – which have hit crisis point.

Australia to welcome back French ambassador after submarine row

"I have to revise everything because when we were talking about the importance of something and then we discover those words were empty – then what was true? What is still real?" he said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he did raise concerns with Paris over the troubled Naval Group contract, but could not reveal discussions with the United States until that strategic partnership had been agreed.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Thursday said she welcomed Thebault's return as an important first step in repairing relations.

(with Reuters)

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