French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary committee: “I have now asked our ambassador to return to Canberra with two missions: to help redefine the terms of our relationship with Australia in the future, and to defend our interests in the concrete implementation of the Australian decision to end the program for future submarines.”
Earlier, France had accused its allies of stabbing it in the back when Australia opted for nuclear-powered submarines to be built with U.S. and British technology instead of a multi-billion-dollar French submarine programme.
Under the AUKUS pact with the UK and US, Australia will acquire a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines built with US technology, after it axed a A$90 billion (over £48 billion) contract with majority French state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.
Last month, an angry France recalled its envoys from Washington and Canberra. While it had promptly sent back its envoy to the US, its NATO partner; it had frozen contacts with Australia. This is the first sign of thaw with Australia after the axed submarine deal.
Mr Le Drian said Paris had completely reviewed its bilateral relationship with Australia given that the submarine deal had been part of that broader strategy. “Starting afresh in our bilateral relations will not have any impact in our determination to remain engaged in the Pacific,” agencies reported.
Australia has said it regretted the ambassador’s recall, and that it values the relationship with France and wants to keep engaging with Paris on issues including the Indo-Pacific.
In a statement to local media, Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is also the deputy leader of the ruling conservative Liberal Party said, “We welcome back the French ambassador to Canberra, and hopefully we can move beyond our recent disappointments.”
It is still not clear how much the termination of the contract signed in 2016 will cost Australia.
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