• Australia defends scrapping of French sub deal, Macron and Biden to talk
• Biden asks for early talks with Macron amid submarine row
A long-planned meeting between the Swiss president and his counterpart in Paris has been called off due to French anger about Bern’s decision to purchase US, not French, fighter jets, media reported yesterday.
Two Swiss daily newspapers, Le Matin Dimanche and SonntagsZeitung, reported that the French had pulled the plug on Swiss President and Economic Affairs Minister Guy Parmelin’s talks with President Emmanuel Macron in November.
Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, both newspapers said that France had opted to drop the meeting due to anger over how the Swiss had conducted their negotiations in the run-up to their June decision to buy 36 Lockheed Martin F35A jets.
According to the sources, Paris charged that the Swiss defence ministry had continued negotiations with other manufacturers, including with French Rafale maker Dassault, after the decision had already been reached to buy the US fighters.
Both the French government and Parmelin’s office at the economic affairs ministry denied that the meeting had been officially cancelled, stressing that the scheduling had not been completed.
“It was never cancelled and especially not due to the reasons mentioned,” the Elysee Palace in Paris said.
It explained that President Macron had agreed in principle at the start of the year to a meeting with his Swiss counterpart, and that the Swiss had proposed a date in November.
“We told them this summer that November would be complicated,” the Elysee said, adding that the final date for the meeting “has not been set yet”.
Parmelin’s office also insisted that since the scheduling had not been finalised, the change of plans was not considered “a cancellation of a confirmed appointment”.
It also highlighted that the visit had not been billed as a state visit, but simply as “a working visit by the president”.
The reports come as France is locked in a tense stand-off with the United States and Australia over Canberra’s decision to break a deal for French submarines in favour of American nuclear-powered vessels.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has requested early talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, France said yesterday, in an apparent effort to mend fences after a row over a submarines contract sparked rare tensions between the allies.
The announcement came after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected French accusations that Canberra had lied about plans to cancel the contract to buy French submarines, saying that he had raised concerns over the deal “some months ago”.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said yesterday there would be a telephone conversation between Biden and Macron “in the coming days” at the request of the US president.
Macron will ask the US president for “clarification” after the announcement of a US-Australian-British defence pact that prompted Canberra’s cancellation of the huge contract for diesel-electric French vessels.
“We want explanations,” Attal said.
The US had to answer for “what looks a lot like a major breach of trust”.
European Union leaders are certain to discuss the issue at talks in Slovenia on October 5, said an EU diplomat, adding that it had raised questions over the transatlantic relationship and Europe’s own geopolitical ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region.
“I think the French ... will milk it for all it’s worth,” the diplomat said, referring to Macron’s long-standing support for greater European strategic autonomy, though many EU states are reluctant to weaken security ties with the United States.
Morrison meanwhile insisted that he and his ministers had made no secret of their issues with the French vessels.
“I think they would have had every reason to know that we had deep and grave concerns,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest.”
Under its new trilateral security partnership, Australia will build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and British technology.
The scrapped deal, struck with France’s Naval Group in 2016, was for a fleet of conventional submarines.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had on Saturday used distinctly undiplomatic language towards Australia, the US and Britain, which is also part of a new three-way security pact announced on Wednesday that led to the rupture.
“There has been lying, duplicity, a major breach of trust and contempt,” Le Drian told France 2 television.
The recall of the ambassadors for the first time in the history of relations with the countries was “to show how unhappy we are and that there is a serious crisis between us”.
The French contract to supply conventional submarines to Australia was worth A$50bn ($36.5bn, €31bn) when signed in 2016.
Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment, but added: “I don’t regret the decision to put Australia’s national interest first. Never will.”
Defence Minister Peter Dutton also insisted Canberra had been “upfront, open and honest” with Paris about its concerns over the deal.
Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said that the objective was now to ensure “that we re-establish those strong ties with the French government and counterparts long into the future”.
Le Drian also issued a stinging response to a question over why France had not also recalled its ambassador to Britain over the Aukus security pact.
“With Britain, there is no need. We know their constant opportunism. So there is no need to bring our ambassador back to explain,” he said.
Of London’s role in the pact he said: “Britain in this whole thing is a bit like the third wheel.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) would have to take account of what has happened as it reconsiders strategy at a summit in Madrid next year, he added.
France would now prioritise developing an EU security strategy when it takes over the bloc’s presidency at the start of 2022, he said.
Admiral Rob Bauer, chair of Nato’s Military Committee, earlier played down the dangers, saying it was not likely to have an impact on “military co-operation” within the alliance.
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