‘Our relationship is bigger than a contract’: Australian PM welcomes return of French ambassador after sub spat

‘Our relationship is bigger than a contract’: Australian PM welcomes return of French ambassador after sub spat

The Australian premier has welcomed the return of the French ambassador and hailed the two countries’ cooperation and shared objectives after Paris was angered by Canberra’s decision to drop a multi-billion-dollar submarine deal.

Speaking on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with his ministers, delighted in France’s decision to return its ambassador to Australia following a drawn-out spat over a submarine deal. 

“We already have cooperation. See, the Australia-France relationship is bigger than a contract,” Morrison stated, adding that France has a significant presence in the Indo-Pacific and the two nations have long-standing commitment across a whole range of different issues.

Earlier on Thursday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the return of the ambassador would help repair relations between the two countries. “We will work with France to move forward with our relationship. We recognise this will take time and ongoing engagement following our submarine decision. The return of the Ambassador is a welcome step in this process,” Payne said in a statement. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also conveyed a similar message, stating it was a positive development in moving beyond recent disappointments. 

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Last month, Australia walked away from a $60 billion diesel-electric submarine contract, penned in 2016, with the French Naval Group. Canberra instead signed a deal with the US and UK, under the AUKUS security pact, for the delivery of a new fleet of nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarines using American and British technology.

France claims it was blindsided by the AUKUS announcement, which in turn saw the Naval Group contract scrapped. Paris called it a “stab in the back” and even condemned the three parties for the maltreatment of an ally. France also withdrew its ambassador to the US following the tripartite pact announcement.

On Wednesday, France said that Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault would return to Canberra but did not specify a date.

France has also contended that the spat with Australia is not just a French problem, but an EU issue. Last week, the EU said it would postpone the next round of talks with Australia over a free trade deal in solidarity with France.

Canberra has suggested there were issues with the French contract for years.

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