Joe Biden describes France submarine deal snub by AUKUS as ‘clumsy’

The American and French Presidents have sat down in an attempt to repair strained relationships brought about by a submarine deal.

US President Joe Biden has labelled the trilateral handling of a submarine deal, which resulted in a major diplomatic fallout with France, as “clumsy”.

Last month, Australia, the US and the United Kingdom formed a new partnership – AUKUS – which meant Canberra would scrap its $90b submarine deal with Paris in favour of nuclear technologies made available by London and Washington.

But France was blindsided by the deal having been advised on the eve of the AUKUS announcement. As a result, ambassadors were pulled from Canberra and Washington.

While Mr Biden was able to smooth over relations, Mr Morrison has faced more difficulties in repairing the relationship.

Speaking from the G20 leaders summit in Rome, Mr Biden sat aside Emmanuel Macron in their first face-to-face meeting since the deal was signed, admitting the situation could have been better handled.

“It was … clumsy … it was not done with a lot of grace,” Mr Biden said.

“I was under the impression that France had been informed long before that the deal was not coming through.

“ … That certain things had happened that hadn’t happened.”

Mr Macron was asked whether repairs with the US had been repaired, saying “we clarified together what we had to clarify.”

It comes after Mr Morrison finally spoke to Mr Macron via phone on the cusp of his flying to Europe on Thursday.

While a readout of the call from Paris suggested Mr Macron expected Australia to do more to rebuild their relationship, Canberra said the dialogue had been “productive”.

According to the Elysee Palace, Mr Macron told Mr Morrison the decision had “broken” trust between the two nations.

“It is now up to the Australian government to propose tangible actions that embody the will of Australia’s highest authorities to reduce the basis of our bilateral relationship,” the readout said.

In contrast, a spokesperson for Mr Morrison described the phone call as having been a “candid discussion”.

On Friday, Defence Minister Peter Dutton suggested the reason France remained bitter about the deal was because of a looming election.

“Politicians and elections always make for an interesting mix. I think once we get through the next year, hopefully we can continue with steps to normalise the relationship,” Mr Dutton said.

Mr Morrison, who has arrived in Rome, will come face-to-face with Mr Macron at the G20 leaders summit, before they fly to Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit.

Originally published as Joe Biden describes France submarine deal snub by AUKUS as ‘clumsy’

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Terrorist Abdul Nacer Benbrika argues against continuing detention order

A convicted terrorist who plotted to bomb the MCG and other sites is back in court in a bold attempt to secure his freedom.

A terrorist leader who plotted to bomb the MCG and other Australian landmarks argues he shouldn’t have been given extra time behind bars.

Abdul Nacer Benbrika has spent 15 years behind bars after he was found guilty and jailed for being the leader of Australia’s largest terrorist network. His sentence expired last year.

But Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton successfully argued to keep him in jail until 2023 under a continuing detention order.

The terror plotter’s lawyer Dan Star QC appeared in the Court of Appeal on Tuesday and told the court the judge who ordered Benbrika to stay behind bars should have specified the offences he was at risk of committing if released.

He also argued another ground was that the original judge made an error in law on admissibility of evidence in the case and risk assessments.

The Algerian-born Benbrika headed cells that targeted the AFL grand final in Melbourne, Crown Casino and a nuclear reactor in Sydney.

He was first arrested in 2005 as one of more than a dozen people caught up with Operation Pendennis, one of the country’s largest counter-terrorism investigations.

In 2017 Benbrika’s bid for parole was refused.

He was ordered to spend an extra three years behind bars in December 2020 and his citizenship was also revoked.

The hearing continues.

Originally published as MCG bomb plotter Abdul Nacer Benbrika bid to get out of jail

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Officials grilled over ‘secret’ nuclear submarine deal

Officials have remained tight-lipped over a submarine deal that caused an international rift with the French.

Taxpayers are no closer to finding out any further details about the AUKUS alliance, as officials were coy about the submarine deal during a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong took up the issue in Senate estimates late Monday afternoon, grilling officials over when the decision to scrap the French submarine deal was made.

The decision to partner with the UK and US for the acquisition of eight nuclear powered submarines caused an international rift with the French, who threatened to block critical EU trade talks with Australia over the diplomatic fracas.

Reporting following the announcement of AUKUS indicated Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the first move to push Australia towards nuclear submarines in March 2020.

When asked, First Assistant Secretary Lachlan Colquhoun said Mr Morrison had requested a review into Australia’s internal defence capabilities.

In the review’s findings, the Secretary of Defence and Chief of the Defence force proposed Australia “investigate the feasibility of nuclear power”.

Asked when that review and its findings was handed to the Prime Minister, Mr Colquhoun could not answer.

“I genuinely don’t know. I was only briefed into this material, very small group of people this year,” he told the estimates hearings.

Senate leader Simon Birmingham later told the hearing high-level discussions were held in March 2020, and more specific discussions began in May 2020.

“March was a high level discussion initiated around submarine capability,” he said.

“May was a more specific request in terms of, okay, the strategic advice and outlook is suggesting change environments in relation to submarine capability, therefore, would it be feasible, possible, to actually look at nuclear powered submarines.”

Asked if the Prime Minister had already decided Australia was going to walk away from the French deal by the time Peter Dutton was installed as Defence Minister in March 2021, Mr Colquhoun said: “I don’t believe so, Senator, to the best of my knowledge.”

Mr Birmingham said he was also brought into the loop by the Prime Minister in March 2021, prior to a Cabinet discussion.

“I had a discussion with the Prime Minister – prior to there being a Cabinet committee discussion,” he said.

When that Cabinet discussion was held, officials could not say.

Much of the questioning put by Senator Wong was referred to either the Department of Defence or taken on notice.

Later, officials told the estimates hearing the Memorandum of Understanding signed to create the AUKUS agreement was “classified”.

“It’s all very secret, isn’t it,” Senator Wong quipped.

Originally published as Officials grilled over ‘secret’ nuclear submarine deal

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