PARIS – U.S. defense officials are in detailed talks with French counterparts on a request for the sale of American components built into French cruise missiles, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.
Asked by a French journalist about Washington blocking the sale of the Scalp long-range weapon to Egypt and Qatar, Mattis said American and French staff were meeting on that very issue even as a press conference was being held.
“We discussed this,” he said. “We also have our staffs meeting. We have an invitation out to France to answer two final questions. The meetings are going on as we speak.”
Mattis, on his first visit to Paris as defense secretary, was speaking at a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, held at Brienne House.
The two issues to be resolved target “certain technologies” that the United States only shares with its closest allies, including France, and whether that technology can be further transferred, and how France can protect that technology, he said.
“Right now we don’t have a final answer but it is all going in the right direction,” he said. “And it was a very fruitful discussion today. Our staffs are working this forward right now.”
The conundrum stems from the French sale to Egypt and Qatar of Scalp cruise missiles to arm Dassault Rafale fighter jets. The weapons include U.S. parts, leading Washington to evoke the International Traffic in Arms Regulations regime.
Parly, meanwhile, thanked Mattis, for help in gaining U.S. authorization for arming French Reaper drones, cleared for fitting by the end of the year.
U.S. President Donald Trump plans to come to Paris to mark the Nov. 11 Armistice Day, she said.
That date is highly significant for France, marking the end of World War I, in which millions of troops died in the trenches.
Mattis said he was not concerned about a drive by France and Germany to build a stronger European defense, as there were some issues which were “of interest only to Europeans.” As long as the European drive would not duplicate NATO or compete for alliance forces, “we see this in a positive direction,” he said.
Mattis earlier met French President Emmanuel Macron and would go on to Brussels for a NATO ministerial meeting.