France Hosts Kocharian As Turkey Fumes

PARIS (Reuters)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian is on a state visit to France to seek moral support from French leaders and investment by French industrialists to secure peace and prosperity for Armenia.

But Turkey is livid at France’s recognition of claims that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenia’s during World War One and is threatening to bar French firms from billion-dollar arms–building and telecoms contracts.

French diplomats played down links between Turkey’s fury and Kocharian’s arrival. “There’s nothing in this of the kind that should jeopardize Franco-Turkish relations,” one French Foreign Ministry official said before Monday’s talks with President Jacques Chirac–followed by a state dinner and meetings with Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and other leaders on Tuesday.

France’s Foreign Ministry took the “business as usual” line.

Paris is working for stability in the Caucasus and prospects for more French investment in Armenia – so far limited mainly to a few alcohol factories run by Castel and Pernod Ricard.

French business is also keeping its head down after the parliamentary bill voted at the end of last month to pass a bill recognizing the Armenian Genocide. “We’re not going to add to the waves that have already been created,” said one business representative.

The French business federation MEDEF meets Kocharian on Wednesday–but said it was standard practice to play host to foreign leaders here on state visits. Two weeks ago–MEDEF and its Turkish counterpart TUSIAD issued a statement regretting “the climate of tension.” “This decision–which hurt the Turkish people’s friendship toward France–has been implemented despite the warnings of the French and Turkish business communities,” they said.

That has not stopped Ankara from making declarations almost daily that Turkey is canceling deals with French companies or barring them from multi-billion dollar tenders for road-building–tank supplies or telecommunications contracts.

Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu said last Friday that Ankara was considering barring French firms from defense tenders worth a total of $11 billion. French state-owned firm GIAT–the maker of Leclerc tanks–is one of the five bidders for a tender worth some $7.1 billion. Ankara has also said it is banning two more companies from defense tenders for a year – Alcatel Space Industries and Matra Marconi Space–now part of a venture owned by the EADS aerospace group and BAE Systems.

Also in the firing line is a $259 million satellite contract with Alcatel and a roadbuilding deal with the French construction group Bouygues.

As well as promoting business ties–Kocharian hopes to build on Chirac’s commitment to help Armenia pursue peace talks with neighboring Azerbaijan over a 13-year conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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