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The Associated Press March 17, 2010, 1:59PM ET

Dassault: Sarkozy helps Rafale export prospects

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is helping the export prospects for the Rafale fighter jet, the head of plane maker Dassault said Wednesday.

CEO Charles Edelstenne declined to comment on talks with Brazil or any other potential clients. But he said that thanks to support from Sarkozy, Dassault has "an important number" of export prospects -- compared to none in 2007.

"The sale of combat planes is a political act," he said at Dassault's headquarters outside Paris. "The Elysee is doing a superb job," he said, referring to the French Elysee presidential palace.

Dassault has taken orders for 180 Rafales, all of them destined for the French armed forces. It has yet to get a single export order, and much anticipated sales to Brazil and Libya have failed to materialize.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said earlier this month that his government has yet to decide which fighter jets his nation will buy.

The Rafale is competing for the estimated $4.4 billion order for 36 jets along with Sweden's Gripen NG from Saab AB and U.S.-based Boeing Co.'s F-18 Super Hornet.

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