Paris silence on alleged Macron-Erdogan Rafale talks

The purchase of the top-generation Dassault Rafale would bring Franco-Turkish defense cooperation to a new level and mark a major diplomatic setback with Greece, writes EURACTIV.

Turkish media reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed interest in acquiring top-generation French Rafale fighter jets in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on July 16.

The phone call was not on Macron’s public agenda.

In contact with EURACTIV, the French Ministry of Defense stated that it “has no comment to make on this issue”.

Dassault Aviation, which makes the Rafale, did not respond to EURACTIV’s request for comment.

Erdogan has shown increasing interest in deepening defense cooperation with Western European leaders.

This comes as there is strong concern in Erdogan’s circles that Turkey’s request for 40 US F-16 Vipers and 80 old-generation F-16C/D aircraft will be rejected by the US Congress, despite the support of US President Joe Biden.

The US Congress has reportedly taken a conservative stance since Turkey bought Russian S-400 air defense systems last year, effectively excluding the country from the US F-35 fighter jet program.

Last November, Erdogan had already announced that Turkey, France and Italy would take “positive steps” on anti-missile defense and participate in the Franco-Italian SAMP/T anti-missile system.

In March, Turkish diplomats had also hinted that they were considering acquiring the Eurofighter Typhoon.

In May, Turkish Air Force Chief of Staff Hasan Kucukakiyuz met with his British counterpart to discuss the issue further.

The long-term Greek-Turkish tensions

The purchase of the top-generation Dassault Rafale would bring Franco-Turkish defense cooperation to a new level and mark a major diplomatic setback with Greece.

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Athens ordered 18 Rafales in January 2021 for a total of €1.92 billion, followed by six more a year later.

The goal is clear: the creation of a “deterrent force”, according to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

“The first Rafales we have received now [τον Ιανουάριο του 2022] they are an air advantage over our neighbor” Turkey, although Mitsotakis added that “defense agreements with powerful states are not aimed at any country in particular.”

The agreement is part of a wider military agreement between France and Greece signed in September which enshrines a mutual defense clause.

Any announcement that France and Turkey are about to strike a Rafale deal is likely to exacerbate tensions in the region as Turkey plays hardball with Greece and long-standing tensions between the two countries begin to simmer once again.

In recent months, Turkey has escalated tensions in the region, publicly challenging the territorial sovereignty of several Greek islands and violating Greek airspace.

Macron had declared in June that Greece has “the full support of the EU and especially of France”. “The Turkish violation of Greek territorial integrity must be condemned quickly,” he added.

How does Athens react?

In communication with EURACTIV Greece, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it generally does not comment on press reports.

For its part, the official opposition party SYRIZA expects an official response from Paris.

A SYRIZA source told EURACTIV Greece that the main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras raised both the issue of the SAMP/T anti-aircraft missile system and the sale of fighter jets to Turkey to the government in his last speech to the Hellenic Parliament.

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“This is something that the government has not ensured in the Greece-France defense agreement to establish a strategic partnership and cooperation in the field of security and defence,” the source said.


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