French President Emmanuel Macron accused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of lying about a multibillion-dollar submarine contract scrapped six weeks ago because of a new security alliance between Canberra, Washington and London.
Asked by Australian reporters whether he thought Morrison lied to him about Canberra’s intentions related to the submarine deal on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome late on Sunday, Macron answered: “I don’t think. I know.”
The dispute between Paris and Canberra arose in September when the United States announced a new security alliance with Britain and Australia for the South Pacific, aimed at countering China’s power in the region.
Under the alliance, known by the acronym AUKUS, Australia would be given access to US technology for building and operating nuclear submarines. It resulted in the 56-billion-euro (66-billion-dollar) deal with France for conventional submarines collapsing.
“I think you can have disagreements, I do respect sovereign choices, but you have to respect allies and partners, and it was not OK with this deal.”
Morrison denied lying to the French president, adding that the decision to scrap the deal “was in Australia’s national interest.”
Australian broadcaster ABC quoted Morrison as saying that he had expressed Canberra’s changing view on the submarine deal to Macron, long before Paris was blindsided by the AUKUS announcement.
“I was very clear that the conventional submarines were not going to be able to meet our strategic interests and that we would need to make a decision in our national interest,” Morrison said he told Macron months ago, according to ABC.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said Macron should “move on.”
“We didn’t steal an island, we didn’t deface the Eiffel Tower, it was a contract,” he said, according to Australian media.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden indicated contrition over the fallout of the AUKUS alliance as he met Macron in Rome, saying the way it was brokered was mishandled.
“What we did was clumsy,” Biden said, adding that he had the impression at the time that Paris had been informed long before the pact was announced.
Macron seemed eager to put the dispute with the US behind him.