French president Emmanuel Macron has alleged that the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison lied to him over the cancellation of a multi-billion dollar submarine deal, as Canberra sought to play down the row.
Both leaders were in Rome for the G20 summit, where they met for the first time since Australia scrapped the submarine deal with France to be a part of a trilateral security alliance with the UK and US dubbed Aukus.
When asked if he thought Mr Morrison lied to him, the French president said: "I don't think, I know."
"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," Mr Macron on Sunday told a group of Australian reporters.
Mr Morrison denied lying to his French counterpart on Monday, and his deputy Barnaby Joyce addressed the issue on a visit to the New South Wales town of Moree, urging France to view the matter in perspective.
“We didn’t steal an island, we didn’t deface the Eiffel Tower. It was a contract. Contracts have terms and conditions, and one of those terms and conditions and propositions is that you might get out of the contract,” Mr Joyce said.
Australia in September dumped a US$40bn deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines after joining the US and Britain in a trilateral security partnership.
Under the partnership, the Royal Australian Navy will receive eight nuclear-powered submarines with British and US technology to counter China’s military aggression.
Since then, France has been fuming over Canberra's sudden decision. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian earlier said that Australia pulling out of the 106 deal was a stab in the back.
"It was a stab in the back. We had established a relationship of trust with Australia. This trust has been betrayed," Mr Le Drian said.
The Australian prime minister, however, claimed that he allegedly raised concerns with Paris over the troubled Naval Group contract, but he could not reveal discussions with the US.
Mr Morrison told a media conference later the same day that he had not lied to Mr Macron and that conventional submarines would no longer meet Australia's needs.
"We had dinner together. As I've said on numerous occasions, I explained very clearly that the conventional submarine option was not going to meet Australia's interests," Mr Morrison was quoted by AFP as saying.
Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden on Friday said that the formation of the new pact had been "clumsy."
"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," Mr Biden told his French counterpart.
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