French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of lying to him while negotiating a submarine deal with Washington and London that sidelined Paris.
Macron’s allegation on Sunday came as the two leaders attended the G20 summit in Rome, their first meeting since Australia scrapped a multibillion-dollar deal with France for conventional submarines in September.
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Canberra’s move came after it unveiled a new trilateral security pact with Washington and London.
Under the terms of the alliance, dubbed AUKUS, Australia may instead acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology.
But the pact caught Paris off-guard, sparking a major diplomatic spat that saw France recall its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra amid accusations that it had been betrayed.
Answering a reporter’s question about whether he thought Morrison lied to him about the developments, Macron replied, “I don’t think, I know”.
He later told a group of Australian reporters at the summit: “I have a lot of respect for your country.
“I have a lot of respect and a lot of friendship for your people. I just say when we have respect, you have to be true and you have to behave in line, and consistently, with this value.”
‘It was a contract’
Morrison denied Macron’s accusation, telling reporters he had explained to the French president that conventional submarines would no longer meet Australia’s needs.
The process of repairing ties had begun, he added.
Morrison and Macron spoke last week before the Australian prime minister publicly sought a handshake at the G20 meeting.
On Monday, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce suggested Paris was overreacting.
“We didn’t steal an island, we didn’t deface the Eiffel Tower. It was a contract,” Joyce told reporters in Australia.
“Contracts have terms and conditions, and one of those terms and conditions and propositions is that you might get out of the contract.”
Joyce spoke hours before Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met France’s ambassador to Canberra. Payne said their hour-long meeting focused on efforts to repair the relationship.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden said the handling of the new pact had been “clumsy“, adding that he had thought France had been informed of the contract cancellation before the pact was announced.