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France: Biden, Macron to Confer on End of Australian Submarine Pact

By Ken Bredemeier September 19, 2021

France says U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron are planning to talk in the next few days about the diplomatic standoff that was triggered between the two old allies when Australia cancelled a submarine contract with Paris in favor of a new security alliance with the United States and Britain.

A French government spokesman said Sunday that the U.S. leader asked to speak with Macron and that a call would occur soon. Gabriel Attal told news channel BFM TV that France wants "clarification" over the cancellation of an order that it had with Australia.

Paris has expressed shock that Australia last week abandoned its $66 billion 2016 contract for French majority state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines, although Australia says it has for months voiced concerns about the deal. The French spokesman said Paris is seeking discussions over reparations for the canceled deal.

The French-Australian deal collapsed as the U.S., Australia and Britain, already long-time allies, jointly announced a new security alliance that would build an Australian fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.

France, angered by the snub, recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra, but not London.

On Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country was concerned the conventional submarines it ordered from France would not meet its strategic needs. He blamed the end of the deal with France on rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific, although he did not specifically refer to China's massive military buildup that the U.S. has expressed concerns about.

China has denounced the sharing of such U.S. and British nuclear technology as irresponsible.

Morrison said Sunday at a news conference that he understood France's disappointment over the cancellation of the order, but said, "Australia's national interest comes first."

"It must come first and did come first and Australia's interests are best served by the trilateral partnership I've been able to form with President Biden and (British) Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson," he said.

Referring to the French submarines, Morrison said, "The capability that the Attack class submarines were going to provide was not what Australia needed to protect our sovereign interests."

He said France "would have had every reason to know that we have deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests and we have made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest."

On Saturday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the France 2 television network that ending the deal with Australia was a "crisis."

"There has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt. This will not do. Things are not going well between us; they're not going well at all," he said.

The French submarine builder Naval Group said 500 of its employees in Australia and another 650 in France are affected by the end of the pact with Australia.

Some material in this report came from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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