Syria will buy two Russian-made Tupolev passenger jets to modernize its national carrier's aging fleet after the United States rejected a bid by Airbus SAS to sell planes to Damascus, Syria's transportation minister said.
Yarob Badr was quoted in Tishrin daily's Monday edition as saying a deal with the Russian plane manufacturer was imminent, and that Syrian Air would first lease the two jets for a year and later purchase them.
Badr said the decision came as the US Commerce Department turned down a request by Toulouse, France-based Airbus to lift the US embargo affecting the sale of planes to Syria. Badr said an Airbus delegation recently informed Syria of the decision by Washington.
Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath declined to comment on the specifics of the request, but said "In any case Airbus acts in accordance with the law."
The US imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria in May 2004 because of what Washington says is its support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and other activities including undermining US operations in Iraq. Syria denies the allegations.
The sanctions affect aircraft or parts sales to Syria, including those by a non-US company, if the planes use American components.
The sanctions have hit Syrian Air hard, grounding much of its fleet and leaving only five Airbus A320s, one aging Boeing 747 and two planes for domestic flights in operation.
Badr urged Syrian Air labor unions to file a suit against the Obama administration on grounds the sanctions threaten the livelihoods of the carrier's roughly 6,000 workers.