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.