The Australian Foreign Minister will meet the French ambassador next week to try to bridge the damaging diplomatic gap on the submarines, while declaring to regret “the deep disappointment that France feels”.
While the government hopes to start mending relations with France, Australian officials have also shared details of friction with Indonesia over the new plan to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has revealed that it was unaware that an Indonesian official would publicly signal his intention to close a “loophole” in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, before an interview in a newspaper last week.
Australian officials said in a committee hearing on Thursday that they responded by “clarifying” in “great detail” Australia’s position and “strongly underlined” that Aukus’ proposal would be in line with the treaty. .
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to address the concerns at a scheduled meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome this weekend, before traveling to Glasgow for the climate conference.
French President Emmanuel Macron will be at the G20 – the first time Morrison has seen the French leader since diplomatic outrage erupted when Australia abruptly canceled the $ 90 billion plan for French-designed submarines . No bilateral meeting with the French president is currently planned.
The French government said it had been “betrayed”, “stabbed in the back” and “deceived” over Australia’s negotiation of new submarine plans with the United States and the United Kingdom, and has temporarily recalled two ambassadors.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne was asked on Thursday if she regretted any aspect of her handling of the case. “I certainly regret the deep disappointment that France is feeling,” Payne said during a hearing on the Senate estimates.
Payne said French Ambassador Jean-Pierre ThÃ©bault had since returned to Canberra and would be released from quarantine this weekend.
âI’m meeting with him myself on Monday – it’s part of the process to address those concerns,â she said.
Payne said she also submitted a request for a phone call with the French foreign minister about two weeks ago, but “we are awaiting a response.”
Payne said she had “heard very precisely what the French government is saying in two languages”, but dismissed the idea that France could have been notified before September 15 – hours before the official announcement of Aukus .
Payne said the decisions concerned “the most sensitive issues at the heart of our sovereign defense strategy”.
“It was the government’s judgment that this sensitivity prevented wider information sharing long before the announcement,” she said.
The minister declined to comment directly on a media report claiming that aides to the Biden administration admitted “they were wrong in leaving the Australians to tell the French they were killing their submarine contract “.
Axios reported on October 6: âThe Australians told the Americans in June that they practically told France they were withdrawing the take, both in writing and in direct conversations between Macron and Australian Prime Minister Scott. Morrison, according to two sources close to insurance.
Payne said: “This report is just another report, senatorâ¦ I am not commenting on several random media articles.”
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong told the minister: âI think the thing that is potentially risky for the relationship [with France] it’s not just that we did it, it’s the way they think we did it. They feel cheated, it’s pretty clear in the public statements.
Payne replied, “And like I said, we’re going to fix all of these issues and all of these steps.”
In Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia have been the most vocal in voicing concerns about Australia’s nuclear submarine plans, including the potential to contribute to a regional arms race.
Payne also said it was “unfortunate” and “unnecessary” that elements of Aukus’ plans were leaked and reported ahead of the public announcement of the deal with the UK and US on the morning of September 16.
Wong urged Payne to confirm that she first spoke to Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi by phone around 11 p.m. AEST on September 15 – after the first reports began to come out.
Payne said her office would check the Australian time, but she and her Indonesian counterpart had traveled to the United States and this was the first opportunity.
Dfat officials said the communications plans they prepared for the government were based on the timing of the official announcement.
Australia planned to contact Indonesia, New Zealand, South Korea, India, France, Canada and Japan ahead of the public announcement. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency was also on that list.
Morrison spoke to leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Wednesday at a virtual summit and assured them that the Aukus plan “does not change the deep commitment and Australia’s long standing in favor of nuclear non-proliferation â.
Despite the concerns of some countries regarding the submarine plan, ASEAN leaders agreed on Wednesday to raise the regional grouping’s relations with Australia to the status of “comprehensive strategic partnership”.