US President Joe Biden has requested early talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, France said yesterday, in an apparent effort to mend fences after a row over a submarine contract that sparked rare tensions between the allies.
The announcement came after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected French accusations that Canberra had lied about plans to cancel a contract to buy French submarines, saying he had raised concerns over the deal “some months ago.”
Australia’s decision to tear up the French deal in favor of US nuclear-powered vessels sparked outrage in Paris, with Macron recalling France’s ambassadors to Canberra and Washington in an unprecedented move.
However, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal yesterday said that there would be a telephone conversation between Biden and Macron “in the coming days,” at the request of the US president.
Macron would ask the US president for “clarification” after the announcement on Wednesday of a Australia-UK-US defense pact known as AUKUS that prompted Canberra’s cancellation of a huge contract for diesel-electric French vessels.
“We want explanations,” Attal said, adding that the US must answer for “what looks a lot like a major breach of trust.”
Morrison said that he and his ministers had made no secret of their issues with the French vessels.
“I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest.”
French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves le Drian on Saturday used distinctly undiplomatic language toward Australia, the US and the UK.
“There has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt,” Le Drian told France 2 television.
He said the recall of the ambassadors for the first time in the history of relations with the countries was “to show how unhappy we are and that there is a serious crisis between us.”
The French contract to supply conventional submarines to Australia was worth A$50 billion (US$36.4 billion at the current exchange rate) when it was signed in 2016.
Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment, but added: “I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. Never will.”
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