France recalls ambassadors to US and Australia over submarine deal

France”s ambassador has described a newly-announced strategic alliance between the UK, the US and Australia a “huge mistake”.

Australia abruptly scrapped a €56bn submarine contract with France in favour of an American firm after the agreement was unveiled on Thursday.

Speaking on Saturday as he prepared to leave Canberra after France recalled its ambassadors in protest, French envoy Jean-Pierre Thebault frankly told reporters: “This has been a huge mistake: a very, very bad handling of the partnership.”

He added that the arms agreement between Paris and Canberra was supposed to be based “on trust, mutual understanding and sincerity.”

“I would like to be able to run into a time machine,” he said, “and be in a situation where we don’t end up in such an incredible, clumsy, inadequate, un-Australian situation.”

The office of the Australian foreign minister, Marise Payne, had earlier issued a statement expressing Canberra’s “regret” over its ally’s withdrawal of its representative.

It added: “Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests.”

France recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia for “consultations” on Friday in a backlash over the countries’ newly-declared military alliance with the UK.

“At the request of the President of the Republic, I decided to immediately recall to Paris our two ambassadors in the United States and in Australia for consultations,” said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

The move comes after Canberra announced earlier this week that it was scrapping a multi-billion purchase of French conventional submarines in favour of nuclear subs built with US technology.

“This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” Le Drian went on.

The French official slammed “unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners, the consequences of which affect the very conception that we have of our alliances, our partnerships and the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe.”

The security pact known as “AUKUS” was announced on Wednesday by Washington, Canberra and London.

Although none of the three governments made any mention of China, the new partnership is widely understood to be an attempt to counter Beijing’s assertiveness in the region.

It plans for deeper diplomatic, security, and defence cooperation between the three capitals with enhanced capabilities and interoperability in cyber, artificial intelligence, and quantum technologies.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden said in a statement that their partnership is “guided by our enduring ideals and shared commitment to the international rules-based order.”

On Thursday, Le Drian blasted the move by the three anglophone countries as “a stab in the back,” adding: “This unilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision is very similar to what Mr Trump used to do.”

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