Lawmakers urge Obama to prevent warship sale

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging President Obama to do more to prevent the French government from selling warships to Russia after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

In a letter to Obama on Tuesday, the lawmakers asked him to personally appeal to French President Francois Hollande to suspend the sale of two amphibious assault ships and lead NATO in halting all arms sales to Moscow.

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"At a time when Russia is illegally annexing Crimea, supporting armed rebels to fight against a democratically-elected government in Ukraine, and cutting off natural gas supply to Ukraine and threatening shortages in the rest of Europe, it is inconceivable that any of our NATO allies should be providing Russia with offensive military capabilities," the letter said. 

Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Bill Keating (D-Mass.) are among the lawmakers who signed the letter to Obama.

The $1.6 billion sale of two French Mistral helicopter carriers has sparked anger in Washington, where lawmakers want to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

The lawmakers said their opposition to the sale has taken on new urgency since a civilian Malaysian airliner was shot down last week by a surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

"Currently, France is poised to supply efficient, deadly, offensive weapons to Russia, an aggressor who could use these weapons not only to kill NATO soldiers, but also to attack NATO-allied territory," the lawmakers wrote. 

“Mr. President, the United States, France, and rest of our NATO allies must now stay together and stand firmly to ensure that there are consequences for these actions – consequences that go beyond the sanctions that have been announced to date," they added. 

Hollande said late Monday he would go ahead with the delivery of a planned Mistral warship to Russia in October, despite opposition from the U.S. and the U.K.. But he added that he is open to halting delivery of the second ship, dependent on “Russia’s attitude.”

The Obama administration has moved to use the plane crash to bolster international support for tougher sanctions against Russia. 

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