Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the French government would have known Canberra had “deep and serious concerns” about French submarines before the deal was broken up last week.
France, angered by Australia’s decision to withdraw from a multi-billion dollar deal to build French submarines for US nuclear-powered ships, has recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington and accused its allies of “lying” about their plans.
Mr Morrison said he understood the French government’s “disappointment”, but said he had raised issues with the deal “a few months ago”, as had other Australian government ministers.
“I think they had every reason to know that we had deep and serious concerns that the capability offered by the Attack Class would not meet our strategic interests and we have made it clear that we will make a decision based on our ‘strategic national interest,'” he said at a press conference in Sydney.
Mr Morrison said it was “negligent” to go ahead with the deal against intelligence and defense advisory and that doing so would be against Australia’s strategic interests.
“I have no regrets about the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. I would never,” he said.
Speaking to Sky News Australia earlier on Sunday, Defense Minister Peter Dutton said his government had been “candid, open and honest” with France because it had concerns about the deal, which was over budget and years behind schedule.
Mr Dutton said he understood the “French annoyance” but added that “suggestions that the Australian Government has not communicated these concerns frankly challenge what is on public records and certainly what has been said publicly over a long period of time”.
“The government has had these concerns, we have expressed them, we want to work very closely with the French and we will continue to do so in the future,” he said.
Mr Dutton said he had personally expressed those concerns to his French counterpart, Florence Parly, and highlighted “Australia’s need to act in our national interest”, which he said had acquired the nuclear-powered submarines.
“Given the changing conditions in the Indo-Pacific, not only now but over the coming years, we had to make a decision that was in our national interest and that’s exactly what we did,” he added.
Dutton said Canberra has not been able to procure the French nuclear-powered ships because they require shipping while US submarines do not, making the latter only suitable for a nuclear-free Australia.
With Australia’s new submarine fleet expected to be operational for decades, Dutton said the country might consider leasing or purchasing existing submarines from the US or Britain in the meantime.
Australia will get nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new defense alliance announced by the United States and Britain on Wednesday, in a deal widely seen as aimed at countering the rise of China.
Yesterday, French government officials Australia has been accused of lying about this case.
“There was lies, duplicity, a huge breach of trust and contempt. This will not work,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France 2 television.
He said a “serious crisis” was now taking place between the allies after Paris recalled its ambassadors in Canberra and Washington.
He also criticized the “permanent opportunism” of the British government, which he called the “third wheel” of the security agreement with Australia and the United States.
He added that NATO will have to take into account what happened while reconsidering future strategy.
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