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'Intentional deceit': French ambassador slams Canberra over AUKUS deal

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By Lauren Chadwick
FILE: French President Emmanuel Macron, second left, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, centre, stand on the submarine HMAS Waller in Sydney.
FILE: French President Emmanuel Macron, second left, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, centre, stand on the submarine HMAS Waller in Sydney.   -   Copyright  Brendan Esposito/Pool via AP Photo, FILE   -  

The Australian government lied and intentionally deceived Paris over the scrapping of a defence deal, says France's ambassador to Australia.

In September, Australia cancelled a contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and agreed to acquire American nuclear-powered vessels instead as part of an Indo-Pacific security pact with the United States and Britain. The pact, known as AUKUS, infuriated France.

"The deceit was intentional," Jean-Pierre Thébault said, accusing the Australian government of keeping France in the dark over the deal.

He also blasted the leaking of President Emmanuel Macron's text message to the press, calling it an "unprecedented new low".

The Australian press published a text supposedly from Macron to Australian PM Scott Morrison that served as part of the prime minister's defence.

"You don't behave like this on personal exchanges of leaders or allies. But maybe it's just a confirmation that we were never seen as an ally," Thébault said.

He said it sent a "worrying signal" for all heads of state that in Australia there would be leaks and messages could be "weaponised" against you.

It came after Macron confirmed to journalists in Rome that he "knew" Morrison had lied to him even though he had great respect for Australia.

Morrison responded by saying he wouldn't "cop sledging" from France over the submarines and that the new deal would meet the country's "strategic needs" in a "complex" region.

Under the new AUKUS pact, Australia will receive nuclear-powered submarines with help from the US and UK.

Thébault called the French submarine pact "far more than a contract", stating that it called on France to "entrust" Australia with "vital elements of [France's] own national security".

Highlighting a joint communiqué released on August 30 between French and Australian defence officials that "underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program", Thébault said there had been many opportunities for Australia to consult with France.