French ambassador says Australia 'childish' to keep US submarine pact secret

France's ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, had been recalled by Paris last month. PHOTO: AFP

CANBERRA (REUTERS) - Australia's assertion that it could not inform France of its top-secret talks with the United States and Britain to build nuclear submarines is "childish", the French envoy to Canberra said on Friday (Oct 8).

Australia walked away from a US$40 billion (S$54.35 billion) deal with France's Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines last month and will instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership with those two countries.

The cancellation angered France, which accused Australia and the US of stabbing it in the back by holding talks without informing them.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he did raise concerns with Paris over the troubled Naval Group contract, but he could not reveal discussions with the US until that strategic partnership had been agreed.

But France's ambassador to Australia, Mr Jean-Pierre Thebault, whom Paris recalled last month, said France was a close security partner of the US, Australia and Britain and could be trusted with such information.

"It's childish to say that it was impossible to consult France," Mr Thebault told ABC radio on Friday, adding that US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said the matter could have been handled better.

"They have officially stated things should have been done differently. There should have been consultations."

Mr Thebault will soon return to Australia where he said he would test Canberra's resolve to repair ties.

A representative for Australia's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Thursday said she welcomed Mr Thebault's return as an important first step in repairing relations.

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