A newly revealed text message from French President Emmanuel Macron indicated he knew a multibillion-dollar submarine deal with Australia was on the rocks days before the Land Down Under announced a nuclear sub pact with the US and the UK.
That message seemed to call into question the Paris government’s assertions that it had been blindsided by the new agreement.
A report by the Australian Financial Review also suggests that Macron played up the rift between the US and its oldest ally to extract a groveling statement of contrition from the American president at last week’s G20 summit in Rome.
The AFR reported this week that two days before the deal known as AUKUS was announced to the world on Sept. 15, Macron messaged Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask: “Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarines ambitions?”
The publication also reported that Macron refused to accept Morrison’s call the following day informing him the agreement for France to build Australia diesel-electric submarines was dead.
However, according to AFR, the French leader might have suspected the move was coming after Morrison told him in June that the French-built subs would not suit Australia’s defense needs. In response to that message, Macron warned Morrison: “I don’t like losing.”
Following the joint announcement of the AUKUS agreement, France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia over what the country’s foreign minister called the “exceptional gravity” of the situation.
The dispute resurfaced late last week when Macron met President Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome.
“I think what happened was — to use an English phrase, what we did was ‘clumsy,’” Biden said. “It was not done with a lot of grace. I was under the impression certain things had happened that hadn’t happened.”
When pressed by a reporter to clarify what he meant, Biden said: “I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not going through. I honest to God did not know you had not been.”
The Australian newspaper reported Monday that Biden’s statement left the Canberra government unclear about whether the American president had been fully briefed on the deal by his National Security Council, whether he was simply unaware of the sensitivity of the situation, or whether he was rebuking Australia to mend fences with France.
Macron, for his part, said that he and Biden had “clarified together what we had to clarify” and added that it was “important is to be sure that such a situation will not be possible for our future.”
The French leader had harsher words for Morrison, telling a reporter “I don’t think, I know” when asked if the Australian prime minister had lied to him over the submarine deal.
Morrison responded angrily to that assertion at the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow over the weekend.
“The statements that were made questioning Australia’s integrity and the slurs … have been placed on Australia, not me. I’ve got broad shoulders. I can deal with that,” he said. “But those slurs, I’m not going to cop sledging at Australia. I’m not going to cop that on behalf of Australians.”
The AFR report has caused fresh outrage in Paris. The recently returned French ambassador to Australia described Morrison’s move Wednesday as “an unprecedented new low, in terms of how to proceed and also in terms of truth and trust.”
“[It] sends a very worrying signal for all heads of state: Beware, in Australia there will be leaks and what you say in confidence to your partners will be eventually used and weaponized against you,” Jean-Pierre Thebault said during remarks at Australia’s National Press Club.
Morrison declined to say whether his office had leaked the message to the AFR.
“Claims were made and claims were refuted,” the prime minister told reporters in the United Arab Emirates on his way back from Scotland. “Australia made the decision not to go ahead with a contract for a submarine that was not going to do the job that Australia needed it to do, and I’ll never make any apologies for that decision.”
With Post wires