France's ambassador to Australia says scrapping submarine deal was 'huge mistake'
Updated 23:12, 18-Sep-2021
Ross Cullen in Paris
Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault arrived at Sydney airport on Saturday after being recalled to Paris./David Gray/AP

Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault arrived at Sydney airport on Saturday after being recalled to Paris./David Gray/AP


France's ambassador to Australia has spoken for the first time since he was instructed to return to Paris for urgent talks along with the ambassador to the U.S. as the diplomatic crisis between France and its western allies deepens. 

Jean-Pierre Thebault said he was "very sad to be forced to leave" but admitted that a "reassessment" needs to be made. He was speaking on Saturday ahead of his return to France, which the French president ordered late Friday. 

"I'm still confident in the French-Australian, Australian-French cooperations," said Thebault. "I think this has been a huge mistake. A very, very bad handling of the partnership because it was not a contract, it was a partnership." 


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The extraordinary diplomatic recall was the first time France has ordered home its ambassador to the U.S, since sending the first envoy across the Atlantic in 1778. The move to recall the top French diplomat in Canberra as well demonstrates the worsening of the situation with particular regard to the Indo-Pacific region. 

In a statement released by the French foreign ministry on September 17, the French foreign ministry criticized Australia's decision to scrap its naval agreement with France. It also spoke out against the announcement by Australia, the U.S. and the UK that they had formed a new trilateral security partnership. 

Those decisions "constitute unacceptable behavior between allies and partners, the consequences of which affect the very conception that we have of our alliances, of our partnerships and of the importance of the Indo-Pacific for Europe," said foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. 

Paris expressed particular scorn toward Britain on Friday, making no mention of an ambassadorial recall or any other action taken toward what one senior French official called Washington's "junior partner." 

"Through this partnership . . . we see that the 'global Britain' strategy is apparently more about being a junior associate than working with different allies," said France's European Affairs minister Clement Beaune, in an interview with France 24.

On September 16, Australia said it would scrap a $40 billion deal signed in 2016 with France. The original contract would have seen French defense firm Naval Group build a fleet of submarines for Australia.

But Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison, U.S. President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise, three-way announcement that Australia would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with American and British technology and expertise.

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