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French anger boils over submarine contract

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France continues to express deep anger with Australia over its decision to tear up a $90 billion submarine contract in favour of a deal with the UK and US.

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The country’s recalled ambassador to Australia has excoriated Scott Morrison over his decision to tear up the contract.

Jean-Pierre Thebault was sensationally summoned back to Paris after Australia scrapped the deal in favour of nuclear-powered boats under a new pact with the United Kingdom and United States.

Thebault said Morrison kept the French government in the dark until the last minute.

“You can imagine our anger. We felt fooled,” he told ABC radio on Monday

He said there was disagreement over whether French President Emmanuel Macron was notified one hour or five hours before Australia announced the AUKUS pact with the US and UK.

“When you’re trusted partners you don’t behave like that,” Thebault said.

“It’s a question of principle, it’s a question of dignity and mutual respect in relations between states.”

But he insisted France was not lobbying the European Union to pull out of free-trade negotiations with Australia.

“At this stage negotiations do continue and it is a strong interest I recognise for Australia to have free-trade agreement with EU.”

Thebault said France shared military technology secrets with Australia during the 18 months the AUKUS agreement was being cooked up.

The experienced diplomat said the submarine deal, which has come under heavy fire for budget blowouts and delays, had been unfairly criticised.

“I’ve not seen such a smear campaign being run against other programs that are currently run in Australia which are usually over budget and usually over time,” he said.

“Maybe because one is British and one is American.”

Trade Minister Dan Tehan will travel to France in the next fortnight for face-to-face meetings with his counterpart.

“We understand the disappointment in France with this decision,” he told the ABC.

“We’ve taken a decision which we firmly believe that is in our own sovereign national interest.”

Tehan said a 12th round of talks on the Australia-EU free-trade deal would go ahead next month.

“I see no reasons why those discussions won’t continue,” he said.

“My hope is we will be able to over the next 12 to 18 months finalise this agreement.”

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said France felt blindsided by the government’s announcement.
“It wasn’t handled in a way that minimised the effect on Australia’s national interest,” she told ABC radio.

“It is not in our national interest to make our friends so angry and so disappointed. The French would be asking with friends like this, who needs enemies?”

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