Greece, France sign warplane deal in message to Turkey

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Greece and France signed a 2.5 billion euro ($3 billion) warplane deal on Monday as part of a burgeoning arms program to counter Turkish challenges in the eastern Mediterranean, Agence France-Presse reported.

France has strongly backed Greece in a standoff with Turkey over natural gas resources and naval influence in the waters off their respective coasts.

The deal will see Greece buying 18 Rafale jets, 12 of them used, made by French firm Dassault to bolster its forces during their regular mid-air skirmishes with Turkish pilots in disputed Aegean airspace.

The deal “sends a clear message in several directions,” said Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, who witnessed a signing ceremony along with his French counterpart, Florence Parly, in Athens.

Greek government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said delivery of the first six planes would begin in July.

A group of Greek air force pilots and technicians are to travel to France for training in the next few days, he added.

Parly’s visit on Monday came on the day Greece and long-term regional rival Turkey kicked off a round of talks over their competing interests in the Mediterranean, their first in nearly five years.

A Greek government spokesman insisted the talks were “not negotiations” and were “not binding.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in September announced a “robust” upgrade to the country’s armed forces.

The program, Greece’s most ambitious in decades, includes four multi-purpose frigates, four navy helicopters, anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes, air force missiles and 15,000 additional troops by 2025.

Turkey in August sent an exploration ship and a small navy flotilla to conduct seismic research in waters that Greece considers its own under postwar treaties.

Greece responded by shadowing the Turkish flotilla with its warships and by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates.

In contrast to other EU and NATO allies, France strongly backed Greece in the showdown with Turkey.

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