CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied lying to French President Emmanuel Macron while secretly negotiating a submarine deal with the United States and Britain, an accusation that has deepened the rift with Australia’s surprise cancellation of a French agreement.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce suggested France was overreacting, saying “we haven’t defaced the Eiffel Tower”.
In September, Australia scrapped the 5-year A$90 million ($66 million) contract with majority French state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines. Instead, Australia formed an alliance with Britain and the United States to acquire a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines built with American technology.
Macron told Australian reporters on Sunday night in Rome, where he and Morrison attended the Group of 20 nations summit, that the new alliance was “very bad news for Australia’s credibility and very bad news for confidence. that great partners can have with Australia”. .”
Responding to a reporter’s question whether he thought Morrison had lied to him, Macron replied: “I don’t think so, I know” he lied.
Morrison said he did not lie to Macron, while senior Australian government ministers criticized the French leader for aggravating the dispute through a personal affront.
“We didn’t steal an island, we didn’t deface the Eiffel Tower, it was a deal,” Joyce said Monday in the New South Wales town of Moree.
“Contracts have terms and conditions, and one of those terms and conditions and proposals is that you could get out of the contract. We broke that contract,” Joyce added.
Joyce’s office could not say whether “stealing an island” was a reference to the tiny island of Sark in the English Channel, which unemployed French nuclear physicist André Gardes tried to overthrow with an assault rifle in 1990. .
The bizarre event inspired the 2013 film, “The Man Who Tried to Rob an Island.”
Cabinet Minister David Littleproud called Macron’s criticism of Morrison “unreasonable”.
Morrison could not reveal that the United States offered Australia nuclear propulsion technology when the two leaders dined together in June for national security reasons, Littleproud said.
“I was very clear that conventional submarines were not going to be able to meet our strategic interests,” Morrison said.
Macron refused to take phone calls from Morrison after the underwater fury broke out until hours before the Australian leader flew to Rome last week. The couple did not hold a bilateral meeting in Rome, but Morrison said they had “spoken several times” and are likely to do more in the coming days. The two leaders will attend the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland this week.
US President Joe Biden told Macron last week that the United States had been “clumsy” in its handling of Australia’s submarine alliance. Biden said he believed Macron had been briefed long before the deal was announced.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, who is aiming to become prime minister after elections due in May, said Morrison’s credibility had been damaged by the submarine controversy.
“It’s important that Australians have a leader on the world stage who is trusted on this stage, whose word can be counted,” Albanese said. “But what we see is that it’s being questioned very directly by the president of France and also the president of the United States.”
Asked by a journalist if Australia could have “managed the situation better”, Joyce replied: “In hindsight”. He then drew an analogy to the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most famous horse race, which takes place on Tuesday.
“If only I could bet on last year’s one, damn it, I’d win some money,” Joyce said.
This story corrects the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister spoke to Moree, not Canberra.