France still confident on Russian warship deal

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France remains "confident" it will win a deal to supply helicopter carriers to Russia, President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said Friday, after Moscow threw open the tender to all comers.

Russia had been in exclusive talks with France to buy two 21,300-tonne Mistral-class amphibious assault ships and Sarkozy had previously promised French shipyard workers that a deal was imminent.

But on Friday, Russia's Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying: "We have announced an international tender for the construction of the helicopter carrier."

Serdyukov said that the tender, due to take place in September, would be for two ships and that the producer of the Mistral -- France 's STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire -- would be allowed to bid.

"France remains confident and sees no reason to worry," a senior Sarkozy aide told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A day earlier, following reports of a Russian change of heart, the Elysee had said "negotiations are going ahead normally in an excellent context".

While still upbeat, the French language is now more cautious than it was last month, when Sarkozy said: "We're still negotiating the contract, but the decision to go ahead is certain."

In June, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told AFP the deal would only go-ahead if France agreed to transfer the advanced military technology which French versions of the vessel are equipped with.

The deal is reportedly worth around 600 million euros (765 million dollars) and would secure jobs in French yards, but France's NATO allies have expressed concern about arming Russia with modern Western weaponry.

© 2010 AFP

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