Mr Stoltenberg insisted the Aukus deal was a “good thing” -despite it costing France a £48bn submarine-building contract – because it would help counter China’s influence in the Asia Pacific. The French President has objected vociferously after the Aukus agreement was unveiled last month, because, under its terms, Australia has committed to building a fleet of nuclear submarines with the help of the UK and the United States.
As a result, Canberra pulled the plug on a deal with the French company Naval Group, in which the French Government has a majority stake.
Such was France’s fury, Mr Macron ordered the recall of its ambassadors to the United States and Australia, with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian lashing out at what he called the “lies and duplicity” of both and describing the news as a “stab in the back”.
However, Mr Stoltenberg said he had no problem with the Aukus deal in principle.
He told Politico: “I understand that France is disappointed.”
In a pointed reminder to Mr Macron, he added: “At the same time, NATO allies agreed as late as June this year at the NATO summit in Brussels with President Biden and all the other leaders that we need to work more closely with what we call the Asia-Pacific partners.
“Therefore, it is a good thing that NATO allies work with Australia.”
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“They are leading in the use of many new disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence – also integrating that into new very advanced weapons systems.
“And we see a much more assertive China, for instance, in the South China Sea.
“All of this matters for our security and therefore NATO has to respond to that.”
Speaking last month, Mr Le Drian claimed Australia only told France it was breaking the contract with Naval Group an hour before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced it at a press conference.
He added: “That is why I say there has been duplicity, contempt and lies, and when you have an ally of the stature of France, you don’t treat them like that.
“The agreement project initiated by the US and Australia was decided by a small group and I’m not sure US and Australian ministers knew about it.
“When we see the US president with the Australian prime minister announce a new agreement, with Boris Johnson, the breach of trust is profound.
“In a real alliance you talk to each other, you don’t hide things, you respect the other party, and that is why this is a real crisis.”
Asked why France had opted not to recall its UK ambassador, Mr Le Drian contemptuously dismissed Britain on “the fifth wheel on the wagon”.
He said: “The UK accompanied this operation opportunistically.
“We do not need to consult in Paris with our ambassador to know what to think and what conclusions to draw from it.”