French minister decries 'duplicity' in US-Australia sub deal

Australia Submarines

PARIS (AP) — France's foreign minister on Saturday denounced what he called the “duplicity, disdain and lies” surrounding the sudden rupture of France's lucrative contract to make submarines for Australia in favor of a U.S. deal and declared that a crisis is at hand among the Western allies.

A day after France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian pummeled what he suggested was a backroom deal that betrayed France.

The recalling of its ambassadors “signifies the force of the crisis today” between the French government and Washington and Canberra, he said in an interview on France 2 television. He said it was the first time ever that France, the United States' oldest ally, has recalled its ambassador to the U.S.

The announcement by President Joe Biden of the deal, alongside the leaders of Australia and Britain, for at least eight nuclear-powered submarines has set France in a fury. The French had signed a contract in 2016 for a dozen conventional diesel-electric submarines and the work to make them was already underway. The deal with French majority state-owned Naval Group was worth at least $66 billion.

Diplomatic niceties have gone out the window as French authorities seek to make their anger known.

Le Drian denied reports that there had been advance consultations with France ahead of the announcement, saying “this isn't true.”

Allies “don't treat each other with such brutality, such unpredictability, a major partner like France ... So there really is a crisis,” Le Drian said.

“There are reasons for us to question the strength of our alliance,” Le Drian said.

Earlier, France's ambassador to Australia also strayed from diplomatic language when describing what has been widely billed in France as the “contract of the century.”

“This has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of the partnership,” French ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault said before flying home to France.

The arms agreement between France and Australia, signed in 2016, was supposed to be based “on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity,” a fuming Thebault said. “I would like to be able to run into a time machine and be in a situation where we don’t end up in such an incredible, clumsy, inadequate, un-Australian situation.”

He said he found out about the canceled contract in the Australian press.

Le Drian said in a written statement Friday that the French decision to recall its ambassadors — at the request of President Emmanuel Macron — “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.

What French officials have called a complex, multi-layered contract was about more than submarines. It was the underpinning for France's vision of the critical Indo-Pacific region, where France has a presence and China is looking to bolster its influence.