ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey has suspended the signing of a $145 million accord to buy Eryx missiles from France’s Aerospatiale in a bid to pressure France’s Senate not to recognize the 1915 deaths of Armenia’s as genocide–a French diplomat told Reuters.
"The agreement was supposed to be signed last week in an exhibition in Paris. It has been postponed on the decision of the Turkish side–waiting for what will happen to this political issue," said the diplomat from the French embassy in Ankara.
Officials from Turkey’s foreign and defense ministries declined to confirm the suspension of the deal for the shoulder-launched–anti-tank system.
Late last month–the French National Assembly adopted a bill stating: "France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915." The bill is due to be discussed this month in the Senate–the upper house of the French parliament.
Turkish officials have warned France of unspecified dire diplomatic and economic consequences if the bill becomes law.
Turkish President Suleyman Demirel this month wrote to his French counterpart Jacques Chirac urging him to use his influence to halt the passage of the bill.
France has one of the largest Armenian communities in Europe–with about 300,000 people of Armenian origin–most of whom are descendants of survivors of the 1915 killings.
The diplomat said the Turkish suspension of the deal was likely to damage international confidence in trade with Ankara.
"In decisions from the Turkish side to stop contracts or bidding–not only France will be the loser–but Turkey too," he said.
The diplomat expressed hope that French companies bidding for contracts to provide Turkey’s armed forces with attack helicopters and main battle tanks would not suffer.
"I hope there will be no problem with the contracts that are going on," he said. "I do not know any specific decision from the Turkish side towards the previous contracts."
Prior to the National Assembly’s decision–Turkey had regarded France as an ally in its long-standing efforts to become a member of the European Union.
The bloc last year put Turkey’s application at the bottom of the pile–citing rows with neighbor Greece and a poor human rights record in its justification.