Hours after British Prime Minister David Cameron blasted as "unthinkable" France’s decision to sell helicopter assault carriers to Russia, the White House on Tuesday reiterated to Newsmax its displeasure of the sale — but in noticeably softer terms.
The administration's comparatively mild criticism of France's decision revived talk in Washington that was heard frequently during French President Francois Hollande’s visit in February: that President Barack Obama has a far closer working relationship with Hollande than he does with Cameron.
At the regular White House press briefing Monday, Newsmax cited the announcement from Paris that the government would proceed with its controversial sale of the first of two Mistral class carriers despite calls from Washington and other European nations for broad sanctions by the European Union against Russia.
Asked whether the United States has a stake in this and whether the administration believes that France and all of the EU members have to be united in order for sanctions to work, press secretary Josh Earnest said coordination on the sanctions would be most effective.
"As it relates specifically to the proposed military transaction between the French and the Russians, we have in the past — I think the president was traveling in Brussels in June, and he articulated some concerns about the sale of that military equipment to the Russians," Earnest said.
"Again, this is a little bit of a common-sense thing. We’ve seen ample evidence that the Russians are flouting international norms, supporting efforts to violate the territorial integrity of independent sovereign nations. It seems like a suboptimal time, if you will, to be transferring advanced military systems to them."
Earnest added, "We’ve made our concerns known, and we will continue to work in close coordination with the British, the French, the Germans, and others as we coordinate the effort to further isolate the Russian regime."
When we asked whether that meant these concerns were made known to Hollande, Earnest said: "Yes, I believe that the president had the opportunity to say this both privately and publicly."
Earnest did not say when these concerns were made known to Hollande "privately" and whether they were expressed before or after France confirmed on Monday it would go through with the 1.2 billion euro contract to sell the two carriers to Russia.
In sharp contrast to Earnest’s measured words, Cameron on Monday told the British parliament that "those of us in Europe should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries."
Singling out France, the prime minister said it should be "unthinkable" for it to fulfill an order for Mistral warships from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military commanders.
For his part, Hollande said no final decision had been made on the second of the two carriers that France and Russia agreed upon,
"Does that mean that the rest of the contract — the second Mistral — can be carried through?" he told reporters, "That depends on Russia's attitude."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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