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France cancels meetings with UK and Australia ministers over AUKUS row

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By AP
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In this July 13, 2007 picture, French Marine officers wait atop "Le Vigilant" nuclear submarine at L'Ile Longue military base, near Brest, Brittany.
In this July 13, 2007 picture, French Marine officers wait atop "Le Vigilant" nuclear submarine at L'Ile Longue military base, near Brest, Brittany.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Francois Mori
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France is trying to rally behind its European Union allies in a row over a major Pacific defense pact orchestrated by the US.

A new strategic partnership involving the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom cancelled a rival French submarine contract last week.

France recalled its American and Australian ambassadors for the first time because of the surprise pact and is now seeking more European sovereignty.

The deal sunk a €56 billion contract for French majority state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines for Australia.

Australia and Britain insisted on Monday that the diplomatic crisis wouldn't affect their longer-term relations with France.

But Paris has confirmed that it has cancelled meetings with British and Australian officials.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he would discuss France's vision for a more strategically independent Europe.

"It's not just a Franco-Australian affair, but a rupture of trust in alliances," Le Drian was quoted in French media.

"It calls for serious reflection about the very concept of what we do with alliances," he added.

EU trade talks set to continue

The French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault had earlier denied media reports that France was lobbying the EU not to sign the trade deal with Australia that has been under negotiation since 2018.

“At this stage, negotiations do continue and there is a strong interest ... for Australia to have a free trade agreement with the EU,” Thebault told ABC.

Such a deal "has the potential to deliver a huge amount of benefits for Australia," Thebault added.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he would travel to Paris within weeks for trade negotiations and was “very keen to touch base with my French counterpart,” Franck Riester.

“I see no reason why those discussions won’t continue,” Tehan added.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has said they were analysing the impact of the Australian submarine agreement.

Macron to meet Biden soon

French President Emmanuel Macron will speak in the coming days with Biden in their first contact since the diplomatic crisis erupted.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison flew to the United States on Monday for a meeting with Biden and the leaders of India and Japan that make up the Quad security forum.

“This is all about, always about ensuring that Australia’s sovereign interests will be put first to ensure that Australians here can live peacefully with the many others in our region, because that’s what we desire as a peaceful and free nation,” Morrison said before departing Sydney.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, insisted that Britain's relationship with France is "ineradicable".