The Australian premier Scott Morrison has contradicted Joe Biden’s claims about whether the French President was informed about the move as he presented his position on Australia’s decision to ditch the multi-billion dollar French submarine contract.
In an interview to reporters at the G20 summit in Rome, the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison insisted that Australia had made ‘the right decision’ ditching the French submarine contract, even though the decision had infuriated the French president and prompted an implicit public rebuke from Joe Biden.
Morrison insisted that he had kept the Biden administration up to date with the status of the negotiations with the French government.
Morrison’s account contradicts an observation from Biden during the meeting with Macron ahead of the G20 summit.
In the meeting, the US president told Macron, with television cameras present, that he was “under the impression that France had been informed” about Australia’s intention to ditch a $90bn contract with the French Naval Group “long before” the Aukus nuclear powered submarine pact was revealed publicly.
Earlier, France had declared it was “betrayed”, “stabbed in the back” and “deceived” over Australia’s decision to dump the French-backed submarine project worth up to $A90bn (£48bn).
It was unclear whether Biden’s rebuke was directed at Morrison, or at his own senior staff. Australian officials suggest Biden’s staff did not keep the President in the loop.
When Morrison was asked whether the US president had effectively thrown him under the bus, Morrison replied that Australia had made the right decision to enter the Aukus agreement with the US and the United Kingdom and “we don’t recoil from that at all”.
Decision, ‘difficult but right’
The Prime Minister said, “Australia made the right decision in our interests to ensure we had the right submarine capability to deal with our strategic interests.”
The PM added, “There was never an easy way for us I think to get to a point where we had to disappoint a friend and partner – it was a difficult decision, but for Australia, it was the right decision”.
The trending row over submarines has followed Morrison from Canberra to Rome. Saturday was the Australian prime minister’s first face-to-face interaction with Macron since the diplomatic tussle over the withdrawal from the Naval Group contract.
Macron has scheduled a number of bilateral meetings with leaders during the G20 summit, but not with Australia. The two saw one another briefly and informally before an official photograph of G20 leaders
Morrison used his opening remarks at the G20 summit to declare that the world needs to identify the origins of Covid-19 in order to provide the best protection against another deadly pandemic.
He said that an inquiry was not “about blame, but about understanding how it came about”.
Morrison said, “We not only need to end this pandemic, we also need to make sure we don’t have another one. We also need enhanced surveillance, and a stronger, more independent and more transparent World Health Organization.”
Indonesia, Malaysia concerns
As well as French fury about the submarine snub, Indonesia and Malaysia have been concerned about Aukus. Regional neighbours are worried it could breach Australia’s longstanding commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. But Australian officials believe that the initial concerns have largely been ameliorated.
During Saturday’s conversation with the Indonesian president, Morrison flagged the desire of Australians to return to Bali now restrictions around international travel were easing.
Ahead of the Cop26 summit where Australia is expected to pursue more technology partnerships and unveil funding for projects in the region, Morrison and Widodo also discussed how technology will “play a pivotal role in addressing climate change, particularly in the developing world”.