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France-Greece frigate deal going ahead despite US offer: Paris

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The file photo shows a frigate at Charles-de-Gaulle harbor, in Toulon, France. (Photo by AFP)

France says its mega military deal with Greece to supply the country with three warships has already been done, following a competing offer from the United States to challenge the contract.

France’s Armed Forces Ministry said on Saturday that a contract for Greece to buy three French frigates had just been signed, adding that Greece will honor the deal, a day after the US State Department announced the approval of the potential sale of naval frigates to Athens.

"Since we have been in discussion with the Greeks, the American offer is no longer on the table... We also signed the contract with the Greeks. It was initialed a few days ago," the ministry said.

An unnamed source at Greece's Defense Ministry told AFP that "the agreement is on and moving forward."

"It has been done at the highest possible level. The Greek prime minister himself has announced it."

On Friday, the US State Department said it had approved the sale for $6.9 billion of four Lockheed Martin combat frigates, known as multi-mission surface combatant ships. It also approved a $2.5-billion Lockheed program to upgrade Greece's MEKO class frigate, including adding and upgrading weapons systems and electronics.

The move came almost three months after Greece signed a memorandum of understanding with Paris on a similar deal for French-built ships.

In September, France signed a $3.51-billion deal with Greece to provide the country with three Belharra frigates. French President Emmanuel Macron said the frigate sale was aimed at defending Paris and Athens’ shared interests in the Mediterranean.  

The deal was reached after Australia’s sudden cancellation of a 2016 multi-billion-dollar contract to buy French submarines. Canberra, instead opted for US nuclear-powered submarines as part of a security deal known as AUKUS, with Washington and London. The move, which Paris slammed as a “stab in the back," sparked outrage in France and prompted Elysee Palace to recall its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra.

However, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces said this time Washington had given Paris advance warning of its announcement, unlike the Australian submarine agreement. "The Americans had warned us that this announcement was going to come out," the ministry said. "They wrote to us, saying that 'as part of good relations, following the AUKUS problem, we are warning you.'"

"There is no inclination (on their part) to go further," the ministry added. "What happened there was just a result of an administrative process, which it was apparently complicated for them to stop from an administrative point of view.”

The French ships would be built by Naval Group for delivery to the Greek navy in 2025 and 2026. Greece has already bought 18 French Rafale warplanes and plans to purchase another six under a program to modernize its armed forces.

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