October 18. 2021. 5:39

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Macron to speak to Biden over cancelled submarine deal

France’s president Emmanuel Macron will speak with US president Joe Biden amid a row over Australia’s cancellation of a submarine deal with France. Photograph: Yiannis Kolesidis/EPA

French president Emmanuel Macron will have a call with US president Joe Biden in the next few days, the French government spokesman said on Sunday, amid a diplomatic crisis triggered by Australia’s cancellation of submarine contract with Paris.

France said on Friday it was recalling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra over a trilateral security deal also involving Britain that sank the multi-billion dollar order for French submarines.

“President Biden asked to speak to the president of the republic and there will be a telephone discussion in the next few days between president Macron and president Biden,” Gabriel Attal told news channel BFM TV.

France would be seeking “clarification” over the cancellation of a submarine order, Mr Attal said.

The scrapping of the contract, struck in 2016, has caused fury in Paris, which claims not to have been consulted by its allies. The Australian government, however, says it had made clear its concerns for months.

After the initial “shock” of the cancellation, discussions would need to take place over contract clauses, notably compensation for the French side, Attal added.

Australia’s prime minister on Sunday said he understands France’s disappointment about the deal cancellation, but that Australia needs to protect its interests.

“Of course it’s a matter of great disappointment to the French government, so I understand their disappointment. But at the same time, Australia like any sovereign nation must always take decisions that are in our sovereign national defence interest,” Mr Morrison told a briefing.

Australia was “upfront, open and honest” with France about its concerns over the deal, defence minister said Peter Dutton said, as the new deal with the United States and Britain continued to fuel a multinational diplomatic crisis.

Australia ditched the 2016 deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines, announcing on Thursday a plan to build at least eight nuclear-powered ones with US and British technology in a trilateral security partnership.

The deal has put Washington in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with France that analysts say could do lasting damage to the US alliance with France and Europe, throwing also throws into doubt the united front that the Biden administration has been seeking to forge against China’s growing power.

Paris has called the cancellation a stab in the back, with foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying relations with the US and Australia were in a “crisis”.

But defence minister Peter Dutton said on Sunday that Australia had been raising concerns with France over the order – valued at over €34 billion in 2016 and reckoned to cost much more today – for a couple of years.

“Suggestions that the concerns hadn’t been flagged by the Australian government, just defy, frankly, what’s on the public record and certainly what they’ve said publicly over a long period of time,” Mr Dutton told Sky News.

Mr Morrison said on Friday he had expressed “very significant concerns” about the deal to Mr Macron in June and made clear Australia “would need to make a decision on in our national interest”.

Finance minister Simon Birmingham said Australia had informed France of the deal but acknowledged on Sunday the negotiations had been secret, given the “enormous sensitivities”. Mr Dutton and Mr Birmingham declined to reveal costs of the new pact, although Mr Dutton said “it’s not going to be a cheap project”.

Malaysia said on Saturday that Canberra’s decision to build atomic-powered submarines could trigger a regional nuclear arms race, echoing concerns already raised by Beijing.

“It will provoke other powers to also act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea,” the Malaysian prime minister’s office said, without mentioning China.

Beijing’s foreign policy in the region has become increasingly assertive, particularly its maritime claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, some of which conflict with Malaysia’s own claims.

“This has been a huge mistake, a very, very bad handling of the partnership – because it wasn’t a contract, it was a partnership that was supposed to be based on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity,” France’s ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault told reporters in Canberra before returning to Paris. – Reuters