France says ambassador to return to Australia after subs row

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France recalled its envoy to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, pictured in August 2019, following Australia's announcement that it was scrapping its multibillion-dollar submarine contract with France (AFP/Ludovic MARIN)

France said on Wednesday its ambassador to Australia would return to his post, ending a diplomatic protest over Canberra's decision to scrap a contract to buy French submarines.

France recalled its envoy to Australia on September 17, but Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament he had "now asked our ambassador to return to Canberra with two objectives: helping to define our relationship with Australia in the future... and firmly defend our interests in the implementation of Australia's decision to terminate the submarine programme".

President Emmanuel Macron reacted furiously to Australia's announcement on September 15 that it was scrapping its multibillion-dollar submarine contract with France in favour of a new deal negotiated in secret with the US and Britain, referred to as AUKUS.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Australia of back-stabbing and the United States of betrayal, calling the move reminiscent of the unilateralist attitude of Biden's predecessor Donald Trump.

Paris recalled its envoys to both Australia and the United States over the furore.

But Macron later ordered the French ambassador to Washington to return to his post after a call with US President Joe Biden, which helped soothe tensions.

France however made clear it was not in as big a rush to mend fences with Australia, and kept its envoy to Canberra in Paris.

France's anger stemmed not only from the loss of the submarine deal -- worth Aus$50 billion (31 billion euros, $36.5 billion) in 2016 -- but also the shattering of an alliance with Australia that it saw as a cornerstone of its Indo-Pacific security strategy.

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