France Risks Big Losses in Turkish Defense Projects after Genocide Bill
France's acknowledgement that the Ottoman Empire committed a genocide against Armenians jeopardized the interests of French firms in lucrative Turkish defense tenders, observers said Friday.
Turkey recalled its ambassador to France and threatened political and economic sanctions as a reprisal Thursday after the French parliament passed a bill recognizing the controversial killings in the early 1900s as genocide.
Foreign Minister Ismail Cem gave the first hint that French companies could be excluded from defense tenders worth billions of dollars.
"Generally such measures (of retaliation) are introduced with respect to public tenders and defense contracts," he told reporters.
A defense cooperation meeting between high-level Turkish and French officials, scheduled for next week, has already been cancelled, a Turkish defense ministry source told AFP Friday.
Ankara, which has enjoyed traditionally warm ties with Paris, believes the genocide bill was politically motivated to please France's influential Armenian diaspora ahead of municipal elections in March and general polls next year.
"By making such political calculations they are undermining their chances in Turkish (defense) tenders, including the tank project, even though their model is quite good," said another defense official, who requested anonymity.
He was referring to a giant Turkish tender for the joint production of 1,000 combat tanks, in which France's GIAT company is bidding with its Leclerc model.
GIAT President Jacques Loppion declined to comment on the genocide bill, but said he regretted it "a little bit."
"Leclerc had passed the tests very sucessfully and it is leading the race," he said in Athens.
The other contenders for the seven-billion-dollar deal are Krauss-Maffei Wegmann of Germany, General Dynamics of United States and Ukrspetseksport of Ukraine.
French companies are also bidding in other military projects, worth hundreds of millions dollars.
Ankara could even scrap already signed deals with French partners using regular contract clauses that allow annulment, a senior defense analyst told AFP.
Turkey and Eurocopter of France signed in 1997 a deal for the joint production of 30 helicopters by 2003. Five helicopters have already been manufactured under the project.
French firm Alcatel won last autumn a contract for Turkey's first spy satellite worth 204 million dollars after a fierce competition with Israel.
The mass-circulation daily Hurriyet reported Friday that Turkey could also have "some (unpleasant) surprises" for French firms bidding in energy tenders.
While officials remained vague on possible counter-moves against the genocide bill, Turkish business groups, trade unions and other non-governmental organizations were up in arms Friday, urging a boycott of French goods.
"We will call on our members to re-evaluate their ties with France, particularly imports, and will advise them to look for other partners," the head of the Union of Turkish Chambers and Commodities, Fuat Miras, said.
The head of the Ankara Chamber of Traders and Artisans, Ali Riza Ercan, said they would support any economic measure the government would introduce against France in retaliation to the bill.
France is among Turkey's main economic partners, with bilateral trade standing at more than four billion dollars in 1999 -- ANKARA (AFP)
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