Bush lobbied on air tanker contract

The leaders of France, Germany and Britain lobbied President Bush over a controversial $35 billion contract for U.S. Air Force aerial refueling tankers that was originally awarded to a team that included a European aerospace firm but is now being reopened for new bids.

The White House confirmed Wednesday that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had all raised the tanker issue with Bush.

But spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush made clear to all three that the decision was up to the Pentagon.

Johndroe said he wasn't sure at what meetings the issue was raised, but most recently Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel talked with Bush at the G-8 meetings last week in Japan. Those meetings came less than a month after congressional auditors found significant errors in the original tanker bidding and urged the Pentagon to reopen the competition.

The Air Force in February awarded the contract to start replacing its 600 or so Eisenhower-era tankers to a team composed of Northrop Grumman and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. rather than Boeing.

EADS is the parent company of Airbus, which has been locked in a fierce rivalry with Boeing for dominance in the commercial airplane market.

The Northrop-EADS tanker would use an Airbus A330, which is assembled in Toulouse, France, using French, German, British and Spanish parts.

Northrop-EADS has announced plans to eventually assemble the tanker at a new facility in Mobile, Ala.