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US, France fall out over French warship sale to Russia

A Mistral warship
A Mistral warship Reuters

French officials have expressed astonishment at US diplomat Victoria Nuland’s “concern” over the sale of two French warships to Russia. Officials denied Nuland’s claim that Washington had “regularly and consistently” raised the question with Paris.

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"We have regularly and consistently expressed our concerns about this sale even before we had the latest Russian actions and we will continue to do so," Assistant Secretary for Europe Nuland told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Democrat and Republican Congressmen called on France to stop the sale as part of tougher sanctions on Moscow in the light of the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

But a French official, who asked not to be named, told France’s AFP news agency that the US has never taken up the sale and hit back at Nuland.

"The United States, like the Europeans, has never voiced privately any concerns about this," the official said. "And we are anyway used to such thundering declarations from her. She's a neo-con. And the fact that it comes from her is actually reassuring."

A leaked phone conversation of Nuland saying in robust fashion that the US should ignore the European Union’s opinion on Ukrainian politicians caused uproar in February.

The statement comes ahead of a visit to Washington by French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius on 12-13 May.

France agreed to sell two Mistral advanced helicopter assault ships to Russia for 1.2 billion euros in 2011.

The first, the Vladivistok, is due to be delivered in October.

The second, the Sebastopol, is to be delivered in 2015 and would be stationed with the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, which has been de facto controlled by Russia since March.

Fabius said in March that Paris may cancel the sale if Moscow does not change its policy on the Ukraine crisis.

But Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that no decision will be taken before October.
 

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