UK vow on military ties with France

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Defence Secretary Liam Fox promised "closer co-operation" with the French today as military budgets face being squeezed on both sides of the Channel.

Dr Fox, who was in Paris for talks with his French counterpart Herve Morin, said the "tough financial climate" meant it was in the interest of both nations to work together.

The Defence Secretary and Mr Morin also discussed Afghanistan and the progress being made to train military and security forces in the country.

As the leading military nations in Europe, the Ministry of Defence said a strong relationship between the UK and France was important for the defence and security of both countries.

Speculation about closer defence ties, including reports of sharing aircraft carrier capability, surfaced in the build-up to today's meeting.

Dr Fox said: "The UK and France are facing the realities of the tough financial climate and it is in our best interests to work together in to deliver the capabilities that both our nations need.

"Mr Morin and I are in agreement that closer co-operation is in both our countries' interests."

Ahead of the meeting Ministry of Defence officials played down reports that Britain and France could share the burden of keeping aircraft carriers at sea in a co-operation pact designed to maintain military power while cutting costs.

With a root-and-branch Strategic Defence and Security Review set to be concluded later this year, a spokesman said: "Speculation at this stage about its outcome is entirely unfounded."

On Afghanistan, Dr Fox said: "The French have made a huge contribution to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and I welcome the opportunity to speak with Mr Morin about this.

"We both agree on the importance of a continued military and civilian effort in Afghanistan.

"Development of the Afghan national security forces is fundamental to delivering transition in Afghanistan, leading to the eventual drawdown of ISAF forces.

"Mr Morin and I discussed the genuine progress we have seen being made on our respective visits to the country."

The pair also discussed issues relating to Europe and Nato during their talks.

Speaking at a press conference in Paris, Dr Fox said it would be "utterly unrealistic" to share an aircraft carrier with France.

He said people would have to "wait and see" what decisions are made in the Defence Review about the carrier programme.

But he said: "In terms of actually being able to share an aircraft carrier I would have thought that was utterly unrealistic."