Aukus fallout: Australia leaking text message from Macron a ‘new low’, says French ambassador

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“You don’t behave like this on personal exchanges of leaders who are allies. But maybe it is just confirmation that we were never seen as an ally,” he told Australia’s National Press Club.“Doing so also sends a very worrying signal for all heads of state: beware, in Australia, there will be leaks.“And what you say in confidence to your partners will be eventually used and weaponised against you one day.”In the message, Macron had asked Morrison: “Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions?”Reports said the leak could have been engineered by Morrison’s office in retaliation for the “lying” charge.Australia in mid-September cancelled a deal for diesel submarines with France’s Naval Group, opting instead to build at least 12 nuclear-powered submarines as it joined a new defence alliance with Britain and the United States dubbed Aukus.The pact, which will give Australia access to nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, is widely viewed as an attempt to counter rising Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region. France’s Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault speaks to the National Press Club in Canberra. Photo: DPA Thebault said Canberra’s suggestion that dissatisfaction with the French conventional submarines had been communicated was “fiction”, saying Paris could not be expected to interpret “ambiguous attitudes”.He pointed to an August joint communique underlining the importance of the submarine deal – just two weeks before it was ripped up – adding “the deceit was intentional”.“And because there was far more at stake than providing submarines, because it was a common agreement on sovereignty, sealed with the transmission of highly classified data, the way it was handled was a stab in the back.”The decision has caused a major bilateral rift, with France recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the United States in protest. Thebault returned to Canberra last month and the speech on Wednesday is the first time he has spoken publicly on the bilateral relationship.“These are not things which are done between partners – even less between friends,” said Thebault, who added that the French government had no gripe with the people of Australia.He said it was now “up to Australia” to suggest ways to repair the damaged relationship.“We won’t buy on promises of love. Love is good. But proof of love is much better,” he said. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison presents his national statement as part of the World Leaders’ Summit of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Photo: AFP Speaking to Australian reporters in Dubai on Wednesday en route from the UN COP26 climate summit, Morrison attempted to draw a line under the episode, saying it was now time to “move on”.“I don’t think there is any further profit for anyone in continuing down this path,” he said. “Claims were made and claims were refuted, what is needed now is for us to all just get on with it.”Morrison and Macron spoke last week before the Australian leader publicly sought a handshake with his French counterpart at the G20 meeting.The destabilisation of the usually close diplomatic relations between the two nations now threatens to spill over into trade consequences. The European Union has twice postponed a planned round of free trade talks with Australia. In solidarity with France, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen questioned whether the bloc could strike a trade deal with Australia.Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said Macron was wrong to accuse Morrison of lying.“We had a major political leader call the prime minister of Australia a liar, and you can’t do that diplomatically,” Joyce told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.“This isn’t some tin-pot nation in the middle of nowhere … if a person calls you a liar, what are you going to do? You have to defend it and say you are not.”US President Joe Biden said last week that the handling of the new pact had been clumsy, adding that he had thought France had been informed of the contract cancellation before the new pact was announced.

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