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Sabotage’: French ambassador unloads on Australia

‘Sabotage’: French ambassador unloads on Australia

The row between France and Australia has ramped up with the French Ambassador accusing the government of “treason in the making”.

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A top French official has accused the Australian Government of engaging in “intentional deceit” and “treason in the making” over the $90 billion axed submarines deal.

France’s Ambassador to Canberra Jean-Pierre Thébault today said the 2016 deal to build 10 Attack class submarines, now ditched for the possibility of US or UK nuclear subs, was undermined by “sabotage” and an “intensive smear campaign” on the part of Australia.

A combative Mr Thébault sarcastically wished Australia “good luck” in its attempts to build nuclear powered submarines.

He said that the Government could consider eating “humble pie”.

For two months, relations between Canberra and Paris have been at rock bottom since the AUKUS deal was announced, the cornerstone of which was a subs deal with Britain and America.

The row overshadowed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s trip to the G20 summit in Rome and the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.

Talking at the National Press Club today, Mr Thébault – who was briefly recalled to Paris when the deal’s end was announced, said ”when you mislead a friend, an ally, you lie to them”. He thanked reporters for uncovering a “treason in the making”.

He refuted suggestions France knew the subs program, to be built with French firm Naval Group, was in jeopardy.

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“It is said we should have read the coffee grounds. This is fiction.

“What is a hard fact is that on 3 August, French and Australian ministers of foreign affairs and defence had agreed a joint communique that the two countries underlined the importance of the future submarine program.

“Why do you agree on such a communique when there’s the slightest doubt on something as massive as the official backbone of your co-operation?” he said.

“Maybe on Mars, but not that I know on this planet.”

Intentional deceit

Rather, Mr Thébault said Australia has strung France along while it thrashed out a deal with the UK and US.

“It was necessity to keep us on the backburner. The deceit was intentional.”

He said it was not just a contract but an “agreement, an alliance, that was solemnly agreed upon”.

Mr Thébault mentioned trust repeatedly and said Australia’s reputation had been harmed.

“The way it was handled was plainly a stab in the back. What, after such events, can any partner of Australia now think, is the value of Australia‘s signature?”

He said that Australia was his “second home” and France would always be “loyal friends”.

“But the problem is of trust and truth. Where do we stand today?

“Why did they lie one day and what can they propose?”

Campaign of ‘sabotage’

Mr Thébault said there had been suggestions of a co-ordinated campaign to “sabotage public support and understanding of the Attack class program,” leading up to the announcement the deal was being scrapped.

“Some say the program had few friends. But the Attack class program, despite the allegations made in an intensive smearing campaign, was not at all a troubled program.”

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Mr Thébault added that the deal’s axing would mean a huge gap in Australia’s submarine capabilities. By the time the first nuclear submarine was built, several French backed vessels could have been in the water. That’s if it got built at all.

“The Australian government is abandoning a solid co-operation with well established parameters for a mere project of a project – not even the lengths of the study is certain.”

He said Australia now had to rescue the relationship.

“It is up to the Australian government to propose tangible actions that embody the political will of Australia’s highest authorities to redefine positively the basis of our bilateral relationship and to continue joint action in the Indo-Pacific.

“I do respect sovereign choices. But you have to respect allies and partners.”

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Asked if Australia should apologise to France over the deal, Mr Thébault said it might be considered.

“Eating one’s share of humble pie may sometimes be difficult. It’s up to everyone to make his own decision.”

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