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France cancels defense meeting with the UK amid submarine row causing an international diplomatic crisis

Amid the row over scrapping of the submarine deal, France has canceled a meeting set for this week between its Defence Minister Florence Parly and her UK counterpart Ben Wallace, a source at her ministry mentioned. 

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This came after Australia’s decision to cancel a multibillion-dollar order for French submarines in favor of American and British technology that has sparked an international diplomatic row of unprecedented proportions between longtime Western allies.

Australia defended its scrapping of a deal for French submarines on Sunday (September 19), saying the government had raised concerns to Paris for months, as a new deal with the United States and Britain continued to fuel a multinational diplomatic crisis. 

“I don`t regret the decision to put Australia`s national interest first,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The move comes after the United States, Australia, and the UK sparked a full-blown diplomatic crisis with France by announcing a strategic partnership under which US nuclear submarines will be supplied to Australia, effectively sidelining France.

About the Submarine deal between France and Australia

Australia ditched the 2016 deal with France`s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines, announcing on Thursday (September 16) a plan to build at least eight nuclear-powered ones with US and British technology in a trilateral security partnership.

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The move infuriated France, a NATO ally of the United States and Britain, prompting it to recall its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra. It also riled China the major rising power in the Indo-Pacific region.

Image For Representation: A port quarter view of a Soviet Papa class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine (SSGN) underway – U.S. National Archives

Morrison said he understood France`s disappointment over the cancellation of the order – valued at $40 billion in 2016 and reckoned to cost much more today – but reiterated that Australia must always take decisions in its best interest. 

“This is an issue that had been raised by me directly some months ago and we continued to talk those issues through, including by defense ministers and others,” Morrison told a briefing.

The new trilateral deal has put Washington in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with France that analysts say could do lasting damage to the US alliances with France and Europe, also throwing into doubt the united front that US President Joe Biden has been seeking to forge against China`s growing power.

Paris has called the cancellation a stab in the back with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying relations with the United States and Australia were in a “crisis”.

Morrison said he had informed France about the new deal at 08:30 p.m. on Wednesday. He, Biden, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced it at 7 a.m. Canberra time on Thursday (2100 GMT on Wednesday).

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said Australia was “upfront, open and honest” with France about its concerns.
“Suggestions that the concerns hadn`t been flagged by the Australian government, just defy, frankly, what`s on the public record and certainly what they`ve said publicly over a long period of time,” Dutton told Sky News. He declined to reveal the costs of the new pact, saying only that “it`s not going to be a cheap project”.

The diplomatic crisis between France and Australia was triggered after the Biden administration along with UK PM Boris Johnson announced last week that they had entered into a deal with the Australian government on helping the country to manufacture nuclear-powered submarines.

In an unprecedented move, French President Emmanuel Macron recalled France’s ambassadors to Canberra and Washington.

In London, a Ministry of Defence source said they could neither confirm nor deny the cancellation of the meeting, but added:
“The UK remains in conversation with our French counterparts about the meetings. “We continue to have a strong and close-working defense partnership with France, as they remain trusted allies of the UK and we continue to work with France in many equipment and operational domains.”

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