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How Obama Tried to Kill the Brazil-France Military Deal

September 17th, 2009
French military jet Rafale

French military jet Rafale

Les Echos, a French daily, has shown a little of what they say happened backstage during the negotiations between Brazil and France to buy the French military jet Rafale. Trying to upstage his French colleague, American president Barack Obama called Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva twice, says the Paris newspaper.

Les Echos revealed up-to-now unknown information on the Obama administration’s efforts to make sure the Brazilian government would choose the F-18 manufactured by Boeing, instead of the French fighter. The planes are for the renewal of FAB’s (Brazil’s Air Force) fleet

As reported by the publication, “Until the beginning of 2009, the competition was only a French-Swedish duel. Starting in mid-July, however, there was a change of atmosphere: Boeing and the Obama administration deployed the steamroller.

“From his vacation spot, the American president calls Lula to tell him that the United States will go the extra mile in terms of technological transfer and Congress will guarantee it.”

According to Les Echos, the US started an “influence battle” and sent the following message to a French negotiator: “We didn’t think that this thing would go so far in disinformation.”

The newspaper tells that Obama only decided to personally take part in the negotiations after finding out how remote were the chances of the F-18 winning the bid against the Rafale.

The first Obama call happened during his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, between August 23 and 30. According to the newspaper, Obama called Lula and offered himself as guarantor that the technology transfer of the F-18 would be approved by the American Congress. He then promised to call again when he got the confirmation of the Congress approval.

Despite Obama’s assurances, the French paper says that Lula called Sarkozy, August 31st, to tell the French president that he had chosen the Rafale. When he arrived in Brazilian capital Brasília, September 6, on the eve of the Brazilian Independence Day, Sarkozy tried to get a public statement that Brazil had opted for the French solution.

On September 7 all the signs indicated that Brazil had made its mind, but it seems that the Obama charm was already starting to work.

Since then the French seem to be in overdrive to secure the agreement. Les Echos tells that Nicolas Sarkozy was awoken at 3 am to agree to the terms that were concocted by the Brazilian Defense minister and the Air Force chief on one side and Sarkozy’s chief of staff and Dassault-Aviation boss on the other.

On September 16, Defense minister Nelson Jobim, who had complained in the past about the Rafale’s high cost, confirmed his preference for the French war plane mainly because of the promised technological transfer. More than once Jobim doubted the good faith of the Americans. “I’m a lawyer,” he said, “and I work with jurisprudence. The precedents I have from the United States are bad.”

Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo tried to check the information published by Les Echos and got some contradictory answers.

While a Brazilian source involved with the negotiations commented: “Whoever wrote the story seems to be an insider,” an aide to Lula dismissed the whole affair: “There’s absolutely nothing to it. I find very unlikely, almost impossible that there has been a call from Obama.”

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