The foreign minister of France accused Australia and the United States of lying over a new security pact that prompted Paris to recall its envoys.
“There has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian alleged on Saturday. “This will not do,” he told France 2 television.
The pact, known as Aukus, thwarted a multibillion-dollar deal France had signed with Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had acted in the country’s national interests.
He insisted the French government “would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns” that the $37 billion deal signed in 2016 for France to build 12 conventional submarines “was not going to meet our strategic interests”.
“Of course it’s a matter of great disappointment to the French government, so I understand their disappointment,” he said.
“But at the same time, Australia like any sovereign nation must always take decisions that are in our sovereign national defence interest.”
The Aukus agreement which also includes the UK will see Australia being given the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines as a way of countering China’s influence in the contested South China Sea.
France was informed only hours before the public announcement was made earlier this week.
Mr Le Drian said a “serious crisis” was in progress between the allies.
“The fact that for the first time in the history of relations between the United States and France we are recalling our ambassador for consultations is a serious political act, which shows the magnitude of the crisis that exists now between our countries,” he told France 2.
He said the ambassadors were being recalled to “re-evaluate the situation”.
But he said France had seen “no need” to recall its ambassador to the UK, as he accused the country of “constant opportunism”.
“Britain in this whole thing is a bit like the third wheel,” he said.
The pact means Australia will become just the seventh nation in the world to operate nuclear-powered submarines. It will also see the allies share cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence and other undersea technologies.
China meanwhile has accused the three powers involved in the security pact of having a “Cold War mentality”.
A White House official has said the Biden administration will engage with France in the coming days to resolve their differences.