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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EADS Close to Closing Libyan Arms Deal

APSarkozy, left, and Gaddafi meeting at the Bab Azizia Palace in Tripoli in July.
PARIS -- The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., Europe's largest aerospace company, has confirmed that it is close to signing two weapons contracts with the government of Libya.

It would be the first arms deal with the North African country since the European Union lifted military sanctions on it nearly three years ago.

But French President Nicholas Sarkozy played no role in negotiating the sale of anti-tank missiles to Libya, a French presidential aide and an executive of EADS said Saturday.

The progress on contracts with the company, which is under French and German management, which are worth $405 million by some accounts, comes just a week after Sarkozy and his wife, Cecilia, helped secure the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian-born doctor who had spent more than eight years in prison after being accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV.

The case had long strained Libya's relations with the EU. But the French government denied on Friday that any direct bargain for weapons contracts had been made with Libya for the medical workers' freedom.

The arms deal -- a sign that Tripoli is shedding its status as a pariah with the West -- has raised concerns with France's Socialist opposition, which has demanded to know whether Sarkozy offered up a weapons contract to entice Libya into freeing the six medics, who were serving life sentences.

The arms sale was never addressed during the Elysee Palace's negotiations to free them, Sarkozy's chief of staff, Claude Gueant, told French newspaper Le Figaro.

He said the weapons deal was negotiated separately by EADS.

"I repeat that the subject never came up in our discussions on freeing the Bulgarian nurses," Gueant was quoted as saying. He added that the president's visit to Libya, soon after the medics were freed, may have helped create a "favorable climate" for the deal with EADS unit MBDA.

"But the commercial negotiations between MBDA and Libyan authorities had been going on for a long time, and we never intervened to accelerate their conclusion," Gueant said.

French Defense Minister, Herve Morin, said on RTL radio that the deals had been cleared by a French ministerial commission on weapons sales in February, well before Sarkozy succeeded Jacques Chirac as president in May.

But undercutting French officials, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, disclosed the contracts in an interview in French newspaper Le Monde.

He said during a recent visit by Sarkozy that the Libyans asked him to "accelerate things."

EADS' director of marketing and strategy also said Sarkozy's office was not involved in the deal, the product of 18 months of negotiations.

In the deal announced Friday, EADS said it had finalized a contract to supply Libya with anti-tank missiles, and said another deal for the purchase of advanced communications systems was on the table.

The new hardware was reportedly worth $405 million. (NYT, Reuters)