France’s ambassador to Australia says he is unsure whether the two countries can repair their relationship and accused the Morrison government of being “childish” over the way it justified dumping a $90 billion submarine contract with Paris.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also escalated his attack on his successor, Scott Morrison, saying he “deceived and double-crossed” French President Emmanuel Macron and France would never trust him again.
French ambassdor to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault will return to Canberra in the coming days.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
France will send its ambassador, Jean-Pierre Thebault, back to Canberra in the coming days following a bitter dispute over the new AUKUS defence pact between Australia, the United States and Britain.
The agreement for the US and Britain to help Australia build nuclear-powered submarines sank the contract with French company Naval Group to deliver a conventionally powered fleet, which France labelled a “stab in the back” before recalling its ambassador last month.
The US has since conceded the AUKUS announcement was poorly handled and France should have been informed sooner, but the Australian government has refused to concede it mishandled the announcement in any way and has not apologised.
Mr Thebault said it “remains to be seen” whether France and Australia were still friends, and he had been sent back to Canberra with clear instructions to re-evaluate the diplomatic relationship.
“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 told the ABC’s Radio National program from Paris.
“What remains of what we have build for years, sometimes decades, together? This remains to be seen.”
Australia and France had been in discussions about boosting their military ties since President Macron sent a letter to Mr Morrison several months ago outlining a proposal that could have allowed French soldiers greater access to Australian military bases.
But Mr Thebault said “every commitment that was taken” by both countries in their bilateral relationship now had to be revisited.
He said it was “childish to say that it was impossible to consult France” well before announcing it was scrapping the French deal and signing the AUKUS agreement.
Asked whether the French government could no longer trust Mr Morrison, he said he wouldn’t “ever dare to comment in such a way” on a head of government.
“What I want to say is there were certain actions that were committed, and there is no possibility of any denial of the seriousness and what they mean. Now there is also a wish expressed to put things back on track,” he said.
“Australians remain our friends, but we need among governments to rebuild the trust.
“The way it was managed was a serious breach of trust and this needs to be repaired, and it will take time.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently visiting Paris in a bid to repair the transatlantic relationship, while French President Emmanuel Macron is planning to meet US President Joe Biden at the G20 summit in Rome later this month to discuss the spat.
“They have officially said things should’ve been done differently. There should have been consultations. So, if the US is able to recognise that, why not others?” Mr Thebault said.
“If you don’t want to take my word, OK. Take the words of President Biden. Take the word of Secretary of State Blinken.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has not returned Mr Morrison’s calls and Trade Minister Dan Tehan has had some in-person meetings cancelled during his visit to Paris this week.
Mr Morrison said on Thursday he welcomed the ambassador’s return to Canberra.
“I think that’s a good thing. And I think that was always going to happen. After the consultations that were had, and look forward to taking the relationship forward. We already have co-operation. See, the Australia-France relationship is bigger than a contract. And France’s presence and significance and influence in the Indo-Pacific isn’t about a contract,” he said.
“We have $32 billion worth of contracts with French, not just French, but European contractors. So France has a significant and long-standing role and future here, and we welcome that.”
Mr Biden’s special envoy John Kerry told French television this week that the US President “had not been fully aware” of the impact the AUKUS deal would have on Paris.
“He literally had not been aware of what had transpired,” Kerry said in an interview with French broadcaster BFMTV.
Mr Turnbull, who has spoken to the French President since the scrapping of the deal, said the French government would never trust Mr Morrison again.
“Obviously not. Scott Morrison deceived and double-crossed the French President,” he told the ABC.
“They will never trust Scott Morrison, we just have to hope that in future they will be able to trust another prime minister. But Morrison has deceived them so blatantly and so shamelessly they’re obviously not going to trust him.”
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