France, Greece sign defense deal; Athens to buy 3 warships

International

French President Emmanuel Macron thumbs up as he welcomes Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. The leaders of Greece and France are expected to announce a major, multibillion-euro deal in Paris on Tuesday involving the acquisition by Greece of at least six French-built warships, Greek state ERT TV reported. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS (AP) — France and Greece on Tuesday announced a defense deal worth around 3 billion euros ($3.5 billion), including Athens’ decision to buy three French warships as part of a strategy to boost its defense capacities in the Eastern Mediterranean amid recurring tensions with longtime foe Turkey.

President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a defense and security strategic partnership in a joint news conference in Paris.

“This partnership expresses our will to increase and intensify our cooperation in the defense and security sector based on our mutual interests,” Macron said. It will “help protect the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity of both states.”

Greece will purchase three French frigates to be built by defense contractor Naval Group in Lorient, in western France. The deal includes an option for the acquisition of a fourth frigate.

Mitsotakis said it comes “out of national motivation to shield our country,” but also has “a European motive as it strengthens our common defense industry.”

“Greece and France are today taking a bold first step towards European strategic autonomy,” he added, saying it’s paving the way towards “a Europe that … will be able to defend (its interests) in the wider region, in the eastern Mediterranean, in the Middle East.”

The announcement comes at a key time for France after the loss this month of a $66 billion deal to sell diesel-electric submarines to Australia, which instead chose to acquire nuclear-powered submarines provided by the U.S. The three-way strategic defense alliance announced by Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. came as a shock to French officials.

French Defense Ministry spokesperson Hervé Grandjean said the warships contract is worth about 3 billion euros. The frigates will be delivered in 2025 and 2026.

As France and Greece are entering a period of negotiation about details of the deal, Granjean said “we have no doubt as to the positive outcome” — unlike what happened with the Australian submarines contract. “We should not slip into excessive paranoia and the incident that we faced recently is the exception rather than the rule.”

Greece has already bought 18 French Rafale fighter jets and plans to purchase another six under a program to modernize its armed forces.

Tensions between Greece and historic regional rival Turkey have increased in recent years over gas exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean and waters between the two countries.

Both countries have been at loggerheads for decades over a long series of issues, including territorial rights in the Aegean Sea, maritime and aviation boundaries, and minority rights.

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Derek Gatopoulos in Athens, Greece and Alexander Turnbull in Paris contributed to this story.

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