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French ambassador accuses Australia of deceit over submarine deal

French ambassador accuses Australia of deceit over submarine deal

French Ambassador in charge of the G7 summit preparations Jean-Pierre Thebault speaks on his mobile phone while working in Biarritz, France August 25, 2019. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

CANBERRA/SYDNEY: France's ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, said on Wednesday (Nov 3) that Australia acted with deceit when it abruptly cancelled a multibillion-dollar deal with Paris to build a fleet of submarines.

"The deceit was intentional," Thebault told media in Canberra on Wednesday.

"And because there was far more at stake than providing submarines, because it was a common agreement on sovereignty, sealed with the transmission of highly classified data, the way it was handled was a stab in the back."

Australia in September cancelled a deal with France's Naval Group, opting instead to build at least 12 nuclear-powered submarines after striking a deal with the United States and Britain.

The new alliance, dubbed AUKUS, is designed to give Australia access to nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.

The decision has caused a major bilateral rift, with France recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the US in protest. Thebault returned to Canberra last month, and the speech on Wednesday is the first time he has spoken publicly on the bilateral relationship.

"These are not things which are done between partners - even less between friends," Thebault said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said last Sunday that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had lied to him about Canberra's intentions.

Morrison has denied the claim. He said he had previously explained to Macron that conventional submarines would no longer meet Australia's needs.

Morrison and Macron spoke last week before the Australian leader publicly sought a handshake with his French counterpart at the Group of Twenty (G20) meeting in Rome.

Last Friday, US President Joe Biden said that the handling of the new pact had been clumsy, adding that he had thought France had been informed of the contract cancellation before the new pact was announced.

Source: Reuters/kg

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