French President Emmanuel Macron said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison lied to him over the cancellation of a submarine building contract in September, and indicated more was needed to be done to rebuild trust between the two allies.
Macron and Morrison were in Rome for the G20 summit, the first time they had met since Australia scrapped a multibillion dollar submarine deal with France as part of a new security alliance with the United States and Britain announced in September.
The new security alliance, dubbed AUKUS and which could give Australia access to nuclear-powered submarines, caught Paris off guard and saw the French ambassadors recalled from Washington and Canberra amid accusations France had been betrayed.
“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,” Macron told a group of Australian reporters who had traveled to cover the G20.
Asked if he thought Morrison had lied to him, Macron replied “I don’t think, I know.”
Morrison, speaking later at a media conference on Sunday in Rome, said he had not lied and that he had previously explained to Macron that conventional submarines would no longer meet Australia’s needs.
“I was very clear that what was going to be provided to us was not going to meet our strategic interests, and there was still a process we were engaged in, and we then engaged in, over the months that followed. And then we communicated to him (Macron) our ultimate decision,” Morrison said.
Morrison repeated the acquisition of at least eight nuclear propelled submarines in a new deal with the US and UK was preferable to the 2016 agreement with France.
“The Australian Government secured this, something that no previous government has been able to secure in 50 years, and this has well-positioned Australia to defend ourselves into the future. So I make no apologies for getting the right result from Australia. And we knew it would be a difficult decision.”
Asked about how his administration would move forward with France, Morrison said that his administration has begun to fix relations on projects of shared and mutual interest, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, but admitted that “these things take time.”
On Friday, US President Joe Biden said he had thought France had been informed of the contract cancellation before the AUKUS pact was announced, and said that the handling of the new security agreement had been clumsy.