After recalling the country’s ambassadors from Canberra and Washington, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian excluded Foreign Minister Marise Payne from a planned trilateral meeting with their Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in New York.
”This meeting will only be held for two [countries] for obvious reasons,” Mr Le Drian told the French newspaper, Ouest-France .
The snub is notable because Senator Payne and Mr Le Drian had a close relationship stretching back to their time as defence ministers when the lucrative contract was struck. Senator Payne once called Mr Le Drian a “very dear friend”.
Mr Le Drian said that the “Australian crisis and breach of the submarines agreement” had been added to the schedule for a meeting of EU foreign ministers where a proposed free trade pact with Australia was also to be discussed.
Representatives from the 27 EU nations met on Monday night (Tuesday morning AEST) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York to discuss the “crisis” and whether to proceed with free trade discussions. Several Australian government sources said they believed France was trying to scuttle the free trade deal to punish Australia.
Speaking after the closed-door meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said “more co-operation, more co-ordination, less fragmentation” was needed to achieve a stable and peaceful Indo-Pacific region where China was the major rising power.
As well as meeting with President Biden, Mr Morrison is scheduled to meet in New York with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the leaders of Sweden and Austria.
In her first public comments about the AUKUS pact, Ms von der Leyen said there were “a lot of questions that have to be answered” about the trilateral partnership.
“One of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable,” she said.
“We want to know what happened and why, and first of all clarify that before we keep going on with business as usual.”
Later on Wednesday (AEST) Mr Morrison will meet over dinner with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Australian ambassador’s residence in Washington.
The Biden administration has defended the submarine pact, describing Australia as a “unique actor” with “incredibly high standards” for nuclear non-proliferation.
“We don’t have the intention of extending this to other countries,” a senior White House official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“This is for Australia. And it is based on a unique set of circumstances involving the Australian case.”
In his phone call with President Joko, Mr Morrison said he would send a team to Jakarta for briefings on the new AUKUS partnership and Australia’s plans to develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
A summary of the call provided by the Prime Minister’s Office said Mr Morrison had assured the Indonesian leader that Australia would maintain all its nuclear non-proliferation agreements and that AUKUS would “contribute to peace and stability and a strategic balance in the region”.
In a statement following the submarine announcement, Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry said it was “deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region”, echoing concerns among other south-east Asian nations.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed last week that President Joko rebuffed Mr Morrison’s request to visit Jakarta for a meeting following his trip to the US, a decision made before the submarine announcement.
In a bid to quell concerns in south-east Asia, Australia’s ambassador to the Association of South-East Asian Nations Will Nankervis issued a statement declaring that AUKUS “is not a defence alliance or pact”.
The agreement “does not change Australia’s commitment to ASEAN nor our ongoing support for the ASEAN-led regional architecture”, Mr Nankervis said.
The European Commission leads trade negotiations on behalf of EU member states, but France is powerful enough to influence whether the talks proceed.
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan is due to travel to Europe next month for a fresh round of free trade negotiations.
European Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer said the bloc was “analysing the impact of the AUKUS announcement” on the October talks and will “have to see what decisions are taken on this”.
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