Australia’s foreign ministry has “noted with regret” France’s decision to recall its ambassador to Australia, after the island nation this week scrapped a $90 billion deal for conventional diesel-electric submarines in favour of a nuclear fleet option as part of an alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the move as a stab in the back and overnight said he was directed by President Emmanuel Macron to recall their ambassadors from Australia and the United States in protest of the deal.
“We note with regret France’s decision to recall its ambassador to Australia for consultations following the decision on the Attack class project,” a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Saturday.
“Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests.
“Australia values its relationship with France, which is an important partner and a vital contributor to stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. This will not change.”
Payne’s spokesperson said Australia and France share many issues of interest and “we look forward to engaging with France again.”
Le Drian slammed the alleged “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners, the consequences of which affect the very conception that we have of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”
“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” Le Drian said in a sharply worded statement on Thursday.
Macron received a letter from Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday morning announcing the cancellation of their deal, Le Drian said on Friday, local time.
American officials later said they informed Paris just hours before Biden’s announcement of the deal on Wednesday.
Senior federal Labor MP Mark Dreyfus called on Morrison to explain how he plans to patch relations with Paris.
“The impact on our relationship with France is a concern, particularly as a country with important interests in our region,” Dreyfus said on Saturday. “The French were blindsided by this decision and Mr Morrison should have done much more to protect the relationship.”
The AUKUS arrangement—between Australia, the United States, and United Kingdom—could see Australia’s first nuclear-powered submarines in the water before 2040.
Morrison confirmed Australia spent $2.4 billion on the scrapped French submarine deal for 12 Attack-class submarines.
“Of course they’re disappointed,” he said when the new deal was announced.
He stressed the decision did not reflect on the Attack class, Naval Group, or the French government.