Australia, France deepen defense ties after breakdown

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Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Minister for Defense Richard Marles, left, speaks during a joint press conference with French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022 in Brest, Brittany. After coming to power in May elections, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party government announced it had agreed to pay France’s Naval Group a 555-million-euro ($583 million) settlement for breaking the contract for French-made diesel-electric submarines. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

BREST, France (AP) — Australia and France are strengthening their defense cooperation and deepening their diplomatic ties, officials said Thursday, as the two countries seek to heal wounds from a controversy over a secret submarine contract that infuriated France a year ago.

During his last stop on a European tour, Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles assured France that his country is trying to “turn the page” and “move on” from the breakdown in relations.

The controversy erupted after Australia canceled a military contract with France that was worth billions of euros (dollars) and took its business instead to the United States and Britain.

“It’s critically important that our relationship moves forward with frankness, with respect and with honesty,” Marles said in a joint statement with his French counterpart, Sébastien Lecornu, in the western French port city of Brest.

The two ministers said they were committed to projects that will strengthen their joint defense capabilities and protect their “shared interests in a prosperous, resilient and secure” Indo-Pacific region.

They agreed to “enhance military cooperation,” including more robust joint military exercises, joint regional deployments, training activities and improved sharing of intelligence.

“Like all friendships, it has experienced ups and downs,” Lecornu, the French defense minister, said of their bilateral relations.

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