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Australia and France agree arms deal for Ukraine as talks seek to bury Aukus debacle

Australia and France have agreed a deal to jointly manufacture and supply thousands of artillery shells to the Ukrainian army, the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries announced on Monday.

The agreement, “worth several million (Australian) dollars”, was announced after bilateral talks in Paris aimed at resetting the relationship between the two countries seriously damaged by the 2021 Aukus affair.

A first shipment of 155mm shells from existing stocks is expected to be delivered to Kyiv within the next two months. The ministers refused to give further details of the contract that will see Australia and France jointly manufacture the ammunition that can be used by French, American and German artillery supplied to Ukraine.

Australian deputy prime minister and defence minister, Richard Marles, said the signed agreement was the opening of “new cooperation between the Australian and French defence industries.”.

“We wanted to act together as a statement of how importantly Australia and France regard support of Ukraine in the current conflict. We wanted to make it really clear that Australia and France stand together in support of Ukraine in the face of the aggression from Russia,” Marles added.

Marles and the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, met their counterparts Sébastien Lecornu and Catherine Colonna for what is known as a “2+2” meeting, the first since the 2021 diplomatic rupture sparked by Aukus. France was furious after Canberra dumped a $90bn deal for French submarines in favour of a deal with the US and UK. Angry French officials, including the French president Emmanuel Macron, accused the government of Scott Morrison of “betrayal”.

At a press conference after the talks in Paris on Monday, the key – and repeated – words were “warmth” and “friendship” between the two countries. In an opening salvo, Colonna said the talks were the first of their format since 2021 adding drily: “I will not go back over that.” She said the aim of the meeting was to forge a partnership based on “mutual respect, confidence and common values”. Asked if the two countries trying to publicly paper over the cracks in their relationship publicly, she replied: “It’s not communication. It’s politics”.

Marles said the aim of the talks was to “grow and deepen the relationship between our two defence forces and said the two countries had agreed to greater access to their respective defence facilities in the Indo-Pacific region.

Asked whether delays in the Aukus programme meant Australia would be asking France to supply “interim” submarines, Marles said no.

“We are obviously working closely with the US and the UK to develop a nulcear power submarine capability. We will be in a position to make our annoucement about that soon…there are no plans for any conventional powered interim submarine capability as we work towards gaining nuclear power capability.”

Lecornu said he hoped the countries could start with a “blank page”.

source: the guardian