Kuwaiti Islamists reject French jets

KUWAIT CITY, March 22 (UPI) -- A bilateral military pact signed by France and Kuwait late last year was supposed to bolster defense cooperation and sweeten the Gulf state's appetite for Dassault's much-vaunted Rafale war plane.

But this week, an Islamist group of lawmakers warned the government in Kuwait to block the warplane deal because it was "suspicious."


"The bloc reiterates its firm rejection of this suspicious deal, especially following information that the latest technical reports have recommended the rejection of the deal," said a statement by the Reform and Development Bloc.

The statement didn't elaborate, neither explaining why it considered the deal suspicious nor affording details of the alleged technical report.

Still, Defense News reported, the bloc's claim could be linked to the deal's "over-inflated" price tag.

"We warn the government against squandering public funds on suspicious deals," the bloc's spokesman Waleed al-Tabtabai was quoted saying.

Details of the deal have not been made public, other than a Kuwaiti parliamentary approval to authorize the deal for up to 28 Rafale combat aircraft.

The Rafale, Dassault Aviation's newest multi-role combat aircraft, has been a flagship program for France's arms industry but is still seeking export buyers, despite major efforts by French authorities.

The aircraft is only in service with the French military and marks the main competition of U.S. aviation rivals Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The European Eurofighter is a competing force.

Still, the prospective deal and the bilateral defense accord signaled France's growing influence in the Gulf.

Lobbying for France's aerospace giant, Dassault, French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Kuwait last year -- the first visit by a French president since 1991 -- to hopefully clinch the deal.

Months later, in April, the French military, which had come to the aid of Kuwait in its fight for liberation in 1991, had military maneuvers with their Kuwaiti counterparts in the emirate's desert.

Still, Kuwait's Islamist lawmakers seemed to spurn the Rafale plane, saying the government should draw caution from other countries that have expressed interest but fell short of sealing a deal.

A deal with Kuwait could whet the appetite of other nations in the region. Already, the United Arab Emirates has begun exploring the possible purchase of 60 Rafale planes.

Kuwait has also expressed interest in other French-made military hardware, ranging from combat helicopters to naval systems.

Some military analysts doubt whether France's intentions to set itself up as an alternative strategic partner to the United States in the Gulf region, are genuine.

Instead, they argue, the French were using bilateral defense agreements with Kuwait to push their sales pitch for the new Rafale jets, introduced eight years ago.

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