STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Here's another report on the destination of high technology. It involves Russia and NATO, the Atlantic alliance that Russia once faced. The Cold War ended two decades ago but no NATO ally has ever sold advanced military equipment to Russia, which may be about to change. The French might sell a warship to Russia. Eleanor Beardsley reports.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on a visit to Paris this month when France announced that it might sell one of its Mistral- class assault ships to Russia, followed possibly by three more. After meeting his French counterpart, Gates made it pretty clear - if not in words, then at least in tone - how the U.S. feels about the deal.
ROBERT GATES: We had a good and thorough exchange of views on it. And I'll just leave it at that.
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BEARDSLEY: French Defense Minister Herve Morin defended the sale, saying it was part of a new French attitude toward Russia.
HERVE MORIN: (Through translator) France wants a new relationship with Russia. We can't, on one hand, claim to be partners with the new Russia, and on the other hand, treat it like it was the old Soviet Union.
BEARDSLEY: Arnaud Dubien with the Institute of Strategic International Relations says the Mistral sale is a business, not a military deal. He says the sale of the ship does not amount to a serious transfer of technology.
ARNAUD DUBIEN: (Through translator) But it's an important symbol, a message that Russia is not an enemy. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we can do more than just buy natural gas. It's the end of a taboo, for the West and for Russia, because it's the first time the Russian military is buying major armaments from a NATO country.
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BEARDSLEY: Charles Nicol, the mayor's spokesman, says St. Nazaire needs the Mistral contracts to keep it from going the way of most big European shipyards.
CHARLES NICOL: At the moment, everybody is speaking about this terrible future, and we can't believe it. Nobody wants to see the shipyards finishing its life.
BEARDSLEY: But even so, says Pierre Tran of Defense News, the Mistral-class ship would be an impressive piece of military hardware.
PIERRE TRAN: The French official view is that it is designed and built along commercial ship standards. But the fact is, it is equipped for swift landing and reception of armored vehicles, helicopters and troops.
BEARDSLEY: The Mistral deal has upset other NATO members like Estonia and Romania, and other countries on Russia's periphery. The issue is particularly sensitive for Georgia, which was invaded by Russia in 2008. A Russian admiral recently commented that having the French ship would have allowed them to invade Georgia in 40 minutes instead of two days.
MAMUKA KUDAVA: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: The Georgian ambassador in Paris, Mamuka Kudava, is trying to stop the sale.
KUDAVA: The Russians themselves very publicly stated they will use this highly sophisticated Mistral ship for whatever reasons they might need it for. That means that in the Black Sea area, Moscow will have even larger and higher capacity of conducting military operations.
BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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