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Sarkozy pushes military contract and political ties in Brazil

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-09-07

French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived for a two-day visit to Brazil on Monday as the country celebrates independence. His goals: to convince Brasilia to buy fighter jets from France and to support Brazil’s wish to be a world power.

In an interview with major Brazilian newspaper O Globo on Sunday, Nicolas Sarkozy put the potential sale of French fighter jets into the context of developing relations between the two nations.  The French president, on his way to attend Brazil’s independence celebrations, told the newspaper that "the relationship between Brazil and France is not one of supplier and client, but of partners."


It was not the first time that Sarkozy has showed his desire for France and Brazil to cooperate more. In December, he announced his support for Brazil’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, an elite club of which France is already a member.


The previous February, Sarkozy was in Brazil to inaugurate the construction of a bridge to French Guiana. At that time, the two leaders also shared strategies on combating illegal gold mining and trafficking in their border region.


This time, however, Brazil is sending its strongest signals yet of being ready to accept France’s gestures. On Thursday, the Senate in Brasilia sealed a 6.1 billion euro deal, in which France will help Brazil build 50 helicopters and a nuclear-propelled submarine.


In addition, a possible new fighter sale could be worth approximately another two billion euros, according to media reports inside Brazil. The new contract could also include something of not only economic but geopolitical value: France sharing highly sensitive military information with Brazil. The French aviation firm Dassault says it would let Brazil in on decades of technological secrets behind its Rafale jet fighter.


Analysts do caution France that Brazil may not be so interested in developing ties with Paris in particular, but rather more generally with Europe and beyond. “[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel was tremendously well-received in Brazil at the beginning of this year,” Christian Girault, a Latin American geopolitics specialist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, told FRANCE 24. “The United States is traditionally Brazil’s strongest ally. But now [Brazil] is looking to diversify its partners… because the economic crisis has reduced the prestige of the United States.”


Brazil reaches out to Europe


In any case, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva did express his openness to Paris as a strategic partner in the Sunday edition of French paper Le Monde. He said that among France, the United States and Sweden – the three countries with manufacturers competing to sell jet fighters to Brazil – the one “that will be best placed to meet our conditions will have the best chance – and you know which country that I'm talking about”. Lula reportedly smiled as he said it.


“Brazil wants the latest technology, and wants more than anything to be able to build [the fighters] themselves,” says FRANCE 24’s Brazil correspondent Marc Burleigh. “Brazil sees itself as a rival to the US politically, economically and now militarily.”


France hopes to sell the Rafale for other reasons. The country has invested nearly 40 billion euros in the plane’s development, but as yet has not exported a single unit. Hundreds of Rafales are already in service in the French military.


Sarkozy is also using his visit to Brazil as the occasion to push other economic cooperation. Along with Dassault executives, he has brought with him representatives from a number of other huge French companies, including GDF Suez and Alstom.


Both of these firms are leaders in the energy field, in which Brazil hopes to anchor much of its worldwide economic power in the 21st century, given the recent discovery of oil fields off its shores. In addition, Alstom is a manufacturer of high-speed trains and Brazil is currently looking for a partner to build a high-speed rail link between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.


All of this talk of economic and military cooperation is set against a backdrop of celebrations in Brazil over two days. Sarkozy is invited to the independence day parade in Brasilia on Monday. He is, in fact, returning an honour; Lula was present at France’s Bastille Day festivities in July.

Date created : 2009-09-07