Prime Minister Scott Morrison has touched down in the US ahead of a week of critical security talks – but conceded he was unable to secure one important meeting.
Scott Morrison has downplayed claims Australia gave France the cold shoulder as the severing of a major submarine contract sours relations between the two nations.
The Prime Minister touched down in New York on Tuesday morning ahead of bilateral talks with US President Joe Biden.
Speaking at the tarmac of John F Kennedy Airport, he said it would be naive to think the cancellation of the program, worth over $90 billion, wouldn’t have caused disappointment for Paris, but he told reporters he stood behind the decision.
“It was always going to be a difficult decision. And it had to be a decision taken in a very secure environment. It would be naive to think a decision of this nature was not going to cause disappointment, obviously, to the French,” Mr Morrison said.
“I made it very clear a conventional submarine would no longer be meeting our strategic interests and what we needed those boats to do … At the end of the day, you have to do things that are in Australia’s national interest, and our security interests.”
The government’s decision to sign a landmark deal with the UK and the US to acquire up to eight nuclear power submarines has caused furore from the French government.
Mr Morrison cited security issues as the reason to why he was unable to inform France of the change ahead of the AUKUS announcement.
“It was not possible for us to be able to discuss such secure issues in relation to our dealings with other countries at the time,” he said.
Paris is now threatening to block talks on a planned free trade agreement between Europe and Australia, a deal which has been three years in the making.
However, Mr Morrison insisted the stoush would not have any impact on negotiations.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, to get an agreement with the European Union on trade, I think everyone understands that,” the Prime Minister said.
“These issues are not easy to arrive at.”
Asked if he would speak with French President Emmanuel Macron while both leaders are in New York this week, Mr Morrison said it was not possible was able to secure time.
“No, there‘s not an opportunity for that at this time. I’m sure that opportunity will come in time,” he told reporters.
Mr Biden is due to speak with Mr Macron in the coming days in an effort to smooth tensions between Washington and France.
Originally published as Scott Morrison unable to secure Macron meeting as relations sour