Sarko: Sell Weapons to Moammar

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 8/04/2007 03:08:00 PM
It wasn't so long ago that Libya was a pariah state sponsoring global terror. Then, in 2003, Maximum Leader Moammar Khaddafi decided to stop developing nukes and pay the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland. Since then, it's been smoother sailing for Libya, which has invited foreign oil companies to compete in the "Oil Olympics" to set up Libyan exploration projects. With oil prices at rather elevated levels, Moammar's ploy came at the right time--at the height of America's WMD hysteria post-9/11 and Iraq invasion. It's even said that Condi Rice might visit Tripoli soon.

Now, the International Herald Tribune writes that the European defense firm EADS is keen on selling weapons once more to Libya. Other firms are also lining up. French President Nicolas Sarkozy figures into this story of EU governments easing matters for this potentially lucrative trade. Last month, Sarkozy visited Libya and Moammar himself. Even if Moammar's wild days of antagonizing the world are over, Libya still needs to have some weapons in store to maintain security. Money has a way of righting wrongs and inducing memory lapses, I suppose:
European Aeronautic Defense & Space confirmed Friday that it was close to signing two weapons contracts with the government of Libya, which would be the first arms deal with the North African country since the European Union lifted military sanctions nearly three years ago.

Word of the contracts, worth €296 million, or $405 million, by some reports, came just a week after President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and his wife, Cécilia, visited Tripoli, visits that contributed to the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had spent more than eight years in prison for supposedly deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the virus that causes AIDS. The case had long strained Libya's relations with the European Union.

EADS said work on a contract had been completed with Libya on Friday to sell an unspecified number of advanced anti-tank missiles manufactured by MBDA, a joint-venture of EADS, BAE Systems of Britain and Finmeccanica of Italy

French media reports valued the deals at €168 million and €128 million, respectively, citing unidentified Libyan officials. EADS declined to attach a value to the deal and said the two contracts had yet to be signed.

The French government denied Friday that any direct bargain for weapons contracts had been made with Libya to secure the release of the medics during Sarkozy's visit.

The French defense minister, Hervé Morin, said on RTL radio that the deals had in fact been cleared by a French ministerial commission on weapons sales in February, well before Sarkozy succeeded Jacques Chirac as president in May.

But the timing of the announcement has already begun to tarnish Sarkozy's diplomatic coup over the medics, which has been seen as paving the way to a normalization of political and economic relations between Libya and the international community.

Critics in France focused on Sarkozy's statement that there had been no quid pro quo to obtain the release of the medics held by the Libyans.

François Hollande, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, called Friday for a parliamentary inquiry. "In a democracy like ours, transparency must be the rule," Hollande said on France-Inter radio.

Sarkozy quickly issued a statement supporting an investigation into France's relations with Libya, including the weapons deals, saying the inquiry would vindicate his government…

In what was no doubt an embarrassment to French officials, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of the Libyan leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, disclosed the contracts in an interview published Thursday in Le Monde.

He said that the French and Libyan governments had been negotiating the deal "for a long time" but that during Sarkozy's visit, the Libyans had asked him to "accelerate things."

"Now that the case of the nurses is settled, a golden opportunity has arisen," the newspaper quoted Saif Qaddafi as saying.

He suggested that further deals with French companies were also possible and said that representatives of the defense electronics groups Thales and Sagem were then in Libya. Spokesmen for the companies declined to comment.

David Martinon, a spokesman for Sarkozy, insisted that the president had not brokered any weapons deals, but conceded that he had opened the door to closer commercial ties between the two countries.

"It's true that President Sarkozy's state visit to Tripoli was very successful," Martinon said on France Info radio, "because the negotiations for freeing the nurses had gone through just before and it seems that greatly accelerated things, to the benefit of French companies."

Weapons contracts with Libya would not breach any international agreement since the United Nations lifted its embargo on such sales to Libya in 2003 and the European Union followed suit in October the next year.

European sanctions date from 1986, when Libya was accused of sponsoring international terrorism and two years before a Pan Am jet exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.

At a special Scottish court sitting in Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, a Libyan national, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was convicted in 2001 of planting the bomb that brought down the jet.

The process of normalizing relations with Tripoli began in 2003 when the Libyan government agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction in a transparent and verifiable way.

Pierre Bayle, a spokesman for MBDA in Paris, said Friday that the agreement on the sale of the medium-range Milan missiles to Libya was the result of 18 months of negotiations. But he downplayed the significance of the sale, saying it was relatively small in financial terms.

"It's a relevant contract, but it's not that big of a story," Bayle said. "That kind of thing we do regularly without getting much attention."

He declined to say whether MBDA was discussing other deals with Libya, but he said "there might be other things within our product range" - which includes the Exocet anti-ship missile and the Mistral surface-to-air missile - that might interest them. "Provided that we can obtain the proper clearance from governments, then we are open to doing business," Bayle said.

Military hardware companies across Europe have been working to sign deals with Tripoli for three years.

Industry executives said that Libya - whose arsenal is equipped mainly with aging Soviet-era weapons - has a long shopping list of military equipment, including helicopters, fighter jets and communications systems, and that they were in discussions with a number of manufacturers across Europe.

"Italian companies, German companies, French - everybody's been heading to Libya," said one industry executive who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "It's perfectly normal."