Australia was concerned the conventional submarines it ordered from France would not meet its strategic needs before it canceled the multibillion defense deal in favor of an agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom earlier this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday.
Seeking to explain the sudden U-turn that caused huge anger in Paris, Morrison said that while he understood France's disappointment over the issue, "Australia's national interest comes first."
"It must come first and did come first and Australia's interests are best served by the trilateral partnership I've been able to form with President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson," he said at a news conference on Sunday.
The decision by Australia to ditch the French deal and attain nuclear-powered submarines through a new agreement with the United States and the United Kingdom appeared to have taken France by surprise earlier this week.
French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said on Sunday that President Emmanuel Macron will hold a phone call with the US President Joe Biden in the next few days "to move forward."
Speaking to the France 2 TV channel on Saturday, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the decision to scrap the deal that had been in the works since 2016 amounted to a "crisis."
"There has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt. This will not do. Things are not going well between us, they're not going well at all," he said.
In a sign of just serious the escalation was, France had recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia for consultation in response to the announcement, the diplomatic equivalent of slamming the door shut following an argument.
The cancellation of the deal has real economic consequences for France. French submarine builder Naval Group said 500 of its employees in Australia and a 650 in France are affected by the breakdown of the agreement.
The company said Sunday it suspended its recruitment efforts in order to prioritize the needs of those affected by the contract coming to an end.
But Morrison defended the decision on Sunday, saying there had been concerns about the deal with France even before it was canceled.
"We had deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack-class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests and we had made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest," he said.
Le Drian also criticized the UK for its role in the deal, saying: "Great Britain, there is no need, we know their permanent opportunism, so there is no need to bring our ambassador to explain it to us. In fact, in this matter, Great Britain is a bit of a fifth wheel."
UK's new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK was seeking to build partnerships with "like-minded countries." Writing in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, she said the new deal with Australia and the US shows Britain's "readiness to be hard-headed in defending our interests and challenging unfair practices and malign acts."