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Syria considers Tupolev after US derails Airbus buy

Airbus deal still frozen-minister.

October 4, 2010 10:47 by



The Syrian government may turn to Russia to buy planes as U.S. sanctions disrupt a mega Airbus purchase aimed at boosting Syria’s tiny civilian passenger fleet, the transport minister said on Sunday.

The government is considering buying up to six medium range Tupolev Tu-204 planes on behalf of flag carrier Syrianair, which has a fleet composed of five functioning aircraft, Yarub Badr told Reuters.

“Nothing happened regarding the Airbus deal,” Badr said when asked whether there has been any change since he announced in January that Washington had declined a request by Airbus for an exemption to sell planes to flag carrier Syrianair.

Relations between Washington and Damascus have improved since and the U.S. government granted Boeing Co permission to overhaul two grounded Syrianair 747 aircraft.

But President Barack Obama, who began a rapprochement with Syria soon after he took power last year, has kept renewing the sanctions, with major political differences remaining between the two countries.

The United States imposed the sanctions in 2004 for Syria’s role in Iraq and Lebanon and support for militant groups.

“The United States has placed an embargo on (Airbus and Boeing) exports to Syria. The Russian option is real and very serious,” Badr said.

Moscow and Damascus have signed at least two memoranda of understanding for plane orders in the last five years, but no purchases happened. Badr hinted that a deal with Tupolev, which is linked to the Russian government, may not be imminent.

“Buying aircraft is not as simple as buying a kilo of bread. It needs time,” said Badr, who was speaking on the sideline of a Syrian-Turkish political forum in the port city of Latakia on the Mediterranean.

“We recently asked the Russian side to assign a single entity to negotiate the sale with Syrianair. The talks have to be direct, with no middle men or commissions,” he added.

PICKING UP THE SLACK

Badr said airlines from countries with good ties to Syria, especially Turkish Airlines , have been operating extra flights to Damascus and picking up the demand generated by Syrianair’s capacity shortfall.

France, among the first to advocate detente with Damascus, has also been in favour of business deals in Syria, supporting a letter of intent signed two years ago between Syrianair and Airbus, a subsidiary of Franco-German company EADS, for a multibillion dollar order.

The agreement involved the possible lease and purchase of a total of 54 aircraft until 2028, including 8 in 2009, and help by Airbus to restructure Syrianair.

Airbus needs an export licence to sell to Syria because its planes tend to have U.S. components.

The company has kept mum about its business contacts with Syria, a sensitive issue considering that EADS is competing along with a U.S. partner against Boeing for a U.S. Air Force tanker refuelling deal worth up to $50 billion.

Boeing has already brought up contacts by an Airbus subsidiary with Iran, an ally of Syria also under U.S. sanctions, and said the contacts should be taken into account when awarding the contract.

(Editing by Lincoln Feast)



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