Australia: 'No sympathy' for France submarine deal says host
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The French President had accused its allies of stabbing France in the back when Australia opted for nuclear-powered submarines to be built with US and British technology instead of a multi-billion dollar French submarine programme.
But while France has sought to mend fences with Washington, it had frozen its contacts with Australia.
Forced to make a U-turn, Macron’s foreign minister said he will send his ambassador back to Australia to help redefine relations after withdrawing the envoy when Canberra ditched the defence accord with Paris.
“I have now asked our ambassador to return to Canberra with two missions, to help redefine the terms of our relationship with Australia in the future…and to defend our interests in the concrete implementation of the Australian decision to end the programme for future submarines,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.
France had considered the partnership with Australia dating back to 2016 as the cornerstone of its Indo-Pacific policy and French officials say they feel particularly betrayed by Canberra. They say Canberra gave them no indications despite launching its plan to switch deals 18 months earlier.
Le Drian said Paris had completely reviewed its bilateral relationship with Australia given that the submarine deal had been part of that broader strategy. “Starting afresh in our bilateral relations will not have any impact in our determination to remain engaged in the Pacific,” he said.
Australia has said it regretted the ambassador’s recall, and that it values the relationship with France and wants to keep engaging with Paris on issues including the Indo-Pacific.
Diplomats have said the crisis in confidence will need some strong acts from Canberra that would benefit French interests in the region.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne welcomed the decision this morning.
“We will work with France to move forward with our relationship. We recognise this will take time and ongoing engagement following our submarine decision. The return of the Ambassador is a welcome step in this process,” Payne said in a statement.
In solidarity with France, the EU last week postponed the next round of talks with Australia over a free trade deal.
Le Drian also met with his US counterpart Antony Blinken on Wednesday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Paris meeting senior French officials to rebuild ties after the row over the AUKUS security pact.
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Le Drian said on Wednesday he had held frank and substantive talks with Blinken.
“The crisis is serious, it is not resolved just because we have resumed dialogue, and it will last. To get out of it we will need acts rather than words,” Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing.
Before leaving Paris, Blinken had described his talks, which included seeing President Emmanuel Macron, as “very positive, very productive” conversations.
French officials have emphasised that AUKUS was a wake-up call for EU states and that they should respond to the recent crisis between Paris and Washington by ending the bloc’s naivety when it comes to defending its interests and building its own military capacity within the NATO framework.
Le Drian said the two sides were working to get results by the end of October when Biden and Macron are due to meet at a G20 leaders summit in Rome. They will also speak before then.
He said the talks would focus on three points raised in a joint communique between the two leaders: the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, the importance of a stronger, more capable European defence, and how Washington can reinforce its support for counter-terrorism operations in Africa’s Sahel region conducted by European states.
When asked for more details on what Paris was seeking and whether there had been any concrete results so far on those issues, a French diplomatic source briefing reporters said it was still too early to say.
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