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Russia wants technology with French warships

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The Mistral. Photo: Naval Technology

PARIS (AFP): Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has insisted in talks with President Nicolas Sarkozy that a controversial deal to buy French warships include cutting-edge technology, officials said.

The sale of up to four Mistral-class assault ships is seen as France's most ambitious bid yet to reach out to Russia, but negotiations have stumbled over Moscow's demands for a transfer of technology.

The deal would be the first sale of advanced military hardware to Russia by a NATO country.

Putin told AFP in an interview this week that a deal on the Mistral, which has been under negotiation for more than five months, is possible only if the vessel comes fully-equipped.

France has said it will not lump sophisticated navigation systems and other sensitive technology into the deal for the ships that cost about USD 600 million each.

During a working luncheon at the Elysee place, Putin held an in-depth discussion about the deal with the French president, according to a Russian official, but no breakthrough was announced.

The official, who asked not to be named, said a working group would be set up by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, presumably to iron out lingering differences.

"Putin and Sarkozy discussed in detail the cooperation in the area of building military vessels", said a Russian official Friday.

"Sechin has been tasked with setting up a working group on that issue."

Earlier in central Paris, Putin opened a big exhibition showcasing Franco-Russian cooperation, saying France and Russia must work together to keep their competitive edge in science and technology.

"In scientific and technological areas, we must unite our efforts," he said.

The sale of the Mistral warships, which can carry 16 helicopters and a 750-strong landing force, has also run into complications over Moscow's insistence that three of the four vessels be built in Russia.

"For us the most important thing is to buy technology.

That is the future," said Russian Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko.

French officials said the transfer of technology was linked to a decision on where the ships would be built.

"If part of the ship is built in Russia, it will be by Russian engineers and workers, so there will be a transfer of know-how," said an aide to Sarkozy, who asked not to be named.

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