Biden asks for early talks with Macron amid submarine row
PARIS: US President Joe Biden has requested early talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, France said on Sunday (Sep 19), in an apparent effort to mend fences after a row over a submarines contract 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 the 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 favour of American nuclear-powered vessels sparked outrage in Paris, with Macron recalling France’s ambassadors to Canberra and Washington in an unprecedented move.
But French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Sunday that there would be a telephone conversation between Biden and Macron “in the coming days” at the request of the US president.
Macron will ask the US president for “clarification” after the announcement of a US-Australian-British defence pact that prompted Canberra’s cancellation of the huge contract for diesel-electric French vessels.
“We want explanations,” Attal said. The US had to answer for “what looks a lot like a major breach of trust”.
Morrison meanwhile insisted 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 Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had on Saturday used distinctly undiplomatic language towards Australia, the US and Britain, which is also part of a new three-way security pact announced Wednesday that led to the rupture.
“There has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt,” Le Drian told France 2 television.
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”.
Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment, but added: “I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. Never will.”
Defence Minister Peter Dutton also insisted Canberra had been “upfront, open and honest” with Paris about its concerns over the deal.
Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said that the aim was now to ensure “that we re-establish those strong ties with the French government and counterparts long into the future”.
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