France recalls its ambassadors to Australia and United States amid submarine fury

London: France will take the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors from Australia and the United States, as the fallout grows from a new defence pact that has infuriated French President Emmanuel Macron.

The unprecedented move follows the Morrison government’s decision to tear up a $90 billion contract to buy 12 French submarines in favour of a new nuclear-powered fleet using technology from the US and United Kingdom.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been angered by Australia’s decision.Credit:AFP

“This exceptional decision is justified by the exceptional gravity of the announcements made on September 15 by Australia and the United States,” the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said in a statement.

“The abandonment of the ocean-class submarine project that had linked Australia to France since 2016, and the announcement of a new partnership with the United States aimed at launching studies on possible future co-operation on nuclear-powered submarines, constitute 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.”

Jean-Pierre Thebault, the French ambassador to Australia, and Philippe Etienne, the ambassador to the US, will return for “consultations”.

The directive is understood to be the first in a rolling series of protests from Paris, which is furious at Australia for abandoning the contract and the US for benefiting from the switch.

Senior French ministers were locked in crisis meetings on Friday to develop their response. Macron, who was heavily invested in the $90 billion submarine deal that had been described as the “contract of the century”, is yet to comment publicly but is furious at Morrison and US President Joe Biden.

Australia selected the French government-owned submarine builder Naval Group to design and partly build the submarines in 2016, but the program has been hit by cost blowouts and delays.

While the future of the contract was in doubt for many months, French officials were taken by surprise at Morrison’s decision to cancel the contract and instead pursue nuclear-powered submarines using reactor technology from the US and UK.

The pact, to be known as AUKUS, also includes greater military co-operation in the Indo-Pacific to counter Beijing’s rapidly escalating militarisation of the South China Sea.

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