Paris (AFP) Aug 03, 2007
Libya has reached a multi-million dollar deal to buy anti-tank missiles and radio systems from the European aerospace giant EADS, in what would be the first such purchase since an arms embargo was lifted on Tripoli in 2004. French Defence Minister Herve Morin confirmed Friday that a letter of intent had been signed for the sale of Milan anti-tank missiles and a radio communications system worth, according to a Libyan official, 396 million euros (405 million dollars). The deal is likely to spark some controversy, coming so soon after France played a key role in brokering the release of six foreign medics sentenced to life imprisonment in Libya.
Sarkozy, who travelled to Tripoli a day after the medics' were freed, has denied that their release was linked to any arms deal.
However, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son, Saif ul-Islam Kadhafi, said resolution of the medics' case had paved the way for the signing of major arms contracts, and the leader of the opposition Socialist Party in France, Francois Hollande, called for a parliamentary enquiry into the deal.
"If there was no exchange, if there was no bartering, why sign a military agreement with the Kadhafi regime, which has been responsible for terrorist acts, which has been a rogue state?" Hollande said.
The Libyan purchases were agreed with subsidiaries of the European aerospace and defence giant EADS, which is controlled by French and German public and private interests.
EADS confirmed Friday that it had "finalised" a deal for the Milan anti-tank missiles.
The company said in a statement that the deal had been secured after 18 months of negotiations and was now "waiting the signature of the Libyan client".
The sale of the Tetra communications system, was still in the process of being finalised, it added.
earlier related report
But officials underlined that the deal for the sale of Milan anti-tank missiles and a radio communications system to Libya had been in the pipeline for months and denied any link between the two sets of negotiations.
The talks for the sale of missiles to Libya lasted 18 months and "in the 18 months, there was no direct intervention from the Elysee (presidential palace)," Marwan Lhoud, director of marketing and strategy at EADS, told Europe 1 radio on Saturday.
French presidential aide Claude Gueant also denied that the presidency had intervened in the arms deal.
Negotiations between EADS subsidiary MBDA and the Libyan authorities "had been going on for a long time and we never intervened to speed up their conclusion," Gueant told the newspaper Le Figaro.
Sarkozy, who travelled to Tripoli to sign the nuclear and military cooperation agreement the day after the medics' release, has denied suggestions of a trade-off, presenting the case as a French and European diplomatic coup.
Gueant, secretary-general at the Elysee presidential palace, also said the possibility of a deal in exchange for Libya's release of the Bulgarian medics was "a subject that never came up in our discussions."
He added that he was unaware that the arms negotiations were taking place in Libya at the same time: "I learned only after I travelled to Tripoli that an MBDA mission had been staying in the Libyan capital for a month," he said.
Meanwhile, Lhoud insisted that the sale took place with the usual support from the government channels involved in such deals.
"The contract was absolutely not on the agenda of President Sarkozy's visit to Libya," he said.
"The fate of the medics was much too important to be dependent on an arms contract."
However, he added: "A presidential visit always creates a favourable climate" for the conclusion of a contract.
Defence Minister Herve Morin on Friday confirmed that a letter of intent had been signed for the arms sale, also stating that: "On arms contracts, the finalisation, the last touch, generally comes via a political act, a visit from the president, or prime minister."
But Morin said the deal, the first since an embargo was lifted on Tripoli in 2004, had already been approved in principle by the government of Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac in February.
The opposition Socialist Party has demanded a parliamentary enquiry to decide if France offered the contracts to Libya as a quid pro quo for the medics' freedom.
Kadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, has said unblocking the medics' case paved the way for the weapons contracts.
On Saturday, however, he stressed that the "signature of the accord between Libya and France is not a quid pro quo in exchange for the freeing of the nurses."
Islam, whose Kadhafi Foundation was instrumental in the liberation of the medics, corroborated claims that the arms talks dated back 18 months and said it would be "unacceptable for such a humanitarian affair to be the object of a swap."
He added that Sarkozy's opponents were acting "out of jealousy over his success" in the mediation to free the medics.
Sarkozy's party has insisted it has nothing to hide.
National Assembly Speaker Bernard Accoyer, a member of Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, said he supported calls for an enquiry and was confident it would ease the opposition's concerns.
And the presidency issued a statement, hours after Sarkozy left for a lakeside summer vacation in New Hampshire, saying he would welcome an "enquiry into recent developments in the relations between France and Libya."
The Libyan purchases were agreed with subsidiaries of EADS, which is controlled by French and German public and private interests, and of Britain's BAE Systems. France holds the largest public stake in EADS, with 15 percent.
The French-designed Milan anti-tank missile is a portable medium-range weapon that has been sold to more than 40 countries since the 1970s.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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US House Passes 459-Billion Dollar Defense Spending Bill
Washington (AFP) Aug 05, 2007
The US House of Representatives early Sunday passed a mammoth defense appropriations bill containing nearly 460 billion dollars in funding for the US military in fiscal 2008, slightly below President George W. Bush's request. The bill that was rushed through in the dead of night contains no money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as they are being funded through separate legislation. The bill allocates 459.6 billion dollars to the Pentagon, against the 463.1 billion dollars the president had requested earlier this year.
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