Brazil close to deciding fighter jet buy: press

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A decision by Brazil to buy 36 modern fighter jets was to take a step closer Monday when president-elect Dilma Rousseff was to ask current Defense Minister Nelson Jobim to stay on in her team to see the deal through, media reported.

They were to formalize an agreement made during Rousseff's campaigning ahead of elections October 31 that Jobim would remain in his job for at least the next two years, the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper said.

Brazil's defense ministry did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for confirmation of the information.

Rousseff takes over as president from her mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on January 1 next year.

The first big project Jobim would oversee is Brazil's selection of the new fighter jets in a deal worth between four billion and seven billion dollars.

France's Rafale jet, made by Dassault, the F/A-18 Super Hornet made by US company Boeing, and a Gripen NG jet by Sweden's Saab are competing in the tender, which has been repeatedly dragged out.

Lula and French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced last year that Brazil was negotiating to buy the Rafale, but the Brazilian government soon backtracked and said the competition was still open.

Lula, however, said he would make the final decision based on political imperatives -- a condition favoring France, which has a strategic pact with Brazil.

Folha highlighted a leaked technical evaluation of the three aircraft that in January this year said the Gripen -- the cheapest option, though it is still on the drafting board -- was the air force's preferred jet.

But US diplomatic cables released Sunday by WikiLeaks said the head of the air force, Brigadier Juniti Saito, last year made it clear to US officials that he considered "there was no question from a technical point of view that the F18 was the superior aircraft."

One US cable signed by Lisa Kubiske, charge d'affaires at the US embassy in Brasilia, noted: "While the Rafale's high price and doubts about the Gripen's development would seem to make the Super Hornet the obvious choice, the fact remains that Lula is reluctant to buy an American aircraft."

Brazil has insisted that transfer of technology be part of the deal.

France was the first to say it would permit full transfer of technology, including software source codes considered the heart of the sophisticated fighters.

Sweden and the United States subsequently said they would provide "relevant" technology to Brazil.

The US cables also contended that the Rafale had "a high level of US content" -- and said the French bid could be undermined by telling Brazil that technology transfer of that jet was partially dependent on US approval.

Folha de Sao Paulo said that, if Brazil opted for the Rafale, a formal accord could be signed during a visit to Brazil by Sarkozy on December 15.

© 2010 AFP

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