Australia and France pledge ammo for Ukraine as AUKUS subs spat lingers

Australia and France pledge ammo for Ukraine as AUKUS subs spat lingers

The AUKUS submarine spat that sparked a diplomatic crisis between Australia and France appears to have been pardoned but not forgotten.

The two nations jointly announced more aid to Ukraine overnight and France threw its support behind Australia’s bid to co-host an upcoming global climate summit, but the fracas was not swept under the rug.

It was the first so-called “2+2” meeting of foreign and defense ministers since French President Emmanuel Macron called former prime minister Scott Morrison a liar, a fact not lost on the French foreign minister affairs, Catherine Colonna does not.

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, left, points the way to Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, second left, and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong before a joint press conference. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (AP)

At a press conference with her Australian counterpart Penny Wong, Defense Minister Richard Marles and French Army Minister S├ębastien Lecornu, she almost immediately referred to the imbroglio as “an incident I will not return to”.

And Lecornu said sacrifices made by Australian soldiers who helped France in previous military conflicts helped put “recent disagreements” into perspective.

Neither Marles nor Wong directly addressed the anger that has now subsided overnight over the scrapping of a $90 billion contract with a French company for the delivery of conventional submarines in favor of pursuing nuclear-powered vessels from either the United States or the United Kingdom.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, far right, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, right, attend a joint press conference with Marles and Wong. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (AP)

Marles spoke of a “high degree of warmth” between the four leaders that characterizes the bilateral relationship.´╗┐

And all four ministers were keen to promote the “rebuilding” of the France-Australia relationship, emphasizing efforts to work more closely together in the Indo-Pacific, Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion and even cooperation in support the space.

The defense ministers said the two countries would work together to make “thousands” of 155mm artillery shells using French manufacturing and Australian gunpowder.

Marles said Australia had some “unique” capabilities that meant collaborating on what he described as a multimillion-dollar project “made sense”.

Defense Minister Richard Marles, right, and Foreign Minister Penny Wong. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) (AP)

“But it is also true that we wanted to act together as a statement about how important Australia and France consider the support of Ukraine in the current conflict,” he said.

“And both of us have supported Ukraine separately in other ways, but we really wanted to make it clear that Australia and France do stand together in support of Ukraine in the face of this Russian aggression.”

Colona described the application as “outstanding” and said the fight against global warming holds promising potential for the bilateral relationship.

There were no new announcements of lucrative traditional military contracts to replace the submarine deal, but Lecornu was quick to stress the military importance of new plans to cooperate in space.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, second right, and French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, second left, welcome Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, left, and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong before their joint meeting at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, Monday, Jan .30, 2023. (Yoan Valat, pool via AP) (AP)

“French and Australian companies are now developing solutions where we want this interoperability to work again,” he said.

“We see that it is our generation of decision makers who must make the right decisions otherwise our countries will be left behind in 10, 15 years.”

He said a letter of intent had been signed regarding the consideration of space launches in Australia.

Asked about the recent assessment by a US general that the US and China will “fight in 2025” over Taiwan, Wong repeated comments that it would be “disastrous” for superpower competition to be allowed to escalate into conflict expand.

AUKUS is likely to continue to feature as Marles and Wong travel to meet British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace for talks involving climate change, the economy and security.

Wong will also meet with EU defense chief Josep Borrell.

Defense, strategy and national security expert Alex Bristow said yesterday that order was important because France and Europe “have a stake in AUKUS, despite not participating in it.”

“Despite the improvement in relations, France’s initial outrage still taints some European views of AUKUS, as I heard when I visited Brussels last week,” he wrote.

“Wong’s meeting with Borrell is an opportunity to set the record straight.”

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