British, French leaders accuse U.S. of protectionism over Air Force tanker contract

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, left, embraces French President Nicholas Sarkozy at Downing Street in London Friday.

Associated Press

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, left, embraces French President Nicholas Sarkozy at Downing Street in London Friday.

LONDON — The French and British leaders accused the United States of protectionism on Friday over a contract to build a new Air Force refueling tanker.

A European-led consortium pulled out of bidding this week for the $35 billion contract, saying the Pentagon was favoring rival American bidder Boeing.

"This is not the right way for the United States to treat its European allies," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was disappointed with the situation. "We believe in free trade, we believe in open markets, we believe in open competition," he said.

The withdrawal of a bid by EADS, the parent company of Airbus, and Northrop Grumman leaves Chicago-based Boeing as the only bidder for the 179-tanker order.

The EADS-led consortium was awarded a contract for the tanker fleet in 2008, but Boeing protested and the deal was annulled later that year.

The European Union has warned Washington about possible protectionism, saying it "would be extremely concerned if it were to emerge that the terms of tender were such as to inhibit open competition for the contract."

Sarkozy and Brown spoke at a news conference after holding talks at the prime minister's residence that focused largely on the economy.

Fast facts

Russia, India sign arms, energy deals

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin closed more than $10 billion in agreements with India on Friday, increasing Russia's role as a partner in defense, nuclear energy, aerospace and communications. "Relations with Russia are a key pillar of our foreign policy," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said after meeting Putin in New Delhi. Putin is spearheading Russia's effort to fend off growing competition for defense and energy contracts from the United States and Europe. The deals signed Friday include hardware and expertise, including an aircraft carrier, a fleet of MiG-29 fighters, defense and space-technology agreements and at least 12 civilian nuclear reactors.

Times wires

British, French leaders accuse U.S. of protectionism over Air Force tanker contract 03/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 9:47pm]

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