https://www.bbc.com-image source, Reuters
image captionFrench Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said there had been “lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt” over the deal
France’s foreign minister has accused Australia and the US of lying over a new security pact that prompted Paris to recall its ambassadors.
Jean-Yves Le Drian also accused the countries of “duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt”.
The pact, known as Aukus, thwarted a multibillion-dollar deal France had signed with Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had acted in the country’s national interests.
He insisted the French government “would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns” that the $37bn (£27bn) deal signed in 2016 – for France to build 12 conventional submarines – “was not going to meet our strategic interests”.
“Of course it’s a matter of great disappointment to the French government, so I understand their disappointment,” he said. “But at the same time, Australia like any sovereign nation must always take decisions that are in our sovereign national defence interest.”
The Aukus agreement – which also includes the UK – will see Australia being given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines as a way of countering China’s influence in the contested South China Sea.
France was informed only hours before the public announcement was made earlier this week.
In an interview with France 2 television on Saturday, Mr Le Drian said a “serious crisis” was in progress between the allies.
“The fact that for the first time in the history of relations between the United States and France we are recalling our ambassador for consultations is a serious political act, which shows the magnitude of the crisis that exists now between our countries,” he told France 2.
He said the ambassadors were being recalled to “re-evaluate the situation”.
But he said France had seen “no need” to recall its ambassador to the UK, as he accused the country of “constant opportunism”.
“Britain in this whole thing is a bit like the third wheel,” he said.
Newly appointed UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss defended the agreement in an article for The Sunday Telegraph, saying it showed Britain’s readiness to be “hard-headed” in defence of its interests.
The pact means Australia will become just the seventh nation in the world to operate nuclear-powered submarines. It will also see the allies share cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence and other undersea technologies.
As he left Canberra on Saturday, French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault called Australia’s decision to unilaterally scrap the deal a “huge mistake”.
China meanwhile has accused the three powers involved in the security pact of having a “Cold War mentality”.
A White House official has said the Biden administration will engage with France in the coming days to resolve their differences.