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Controversial M-17 Sale for Afghans Remains Undecided

PARIS -- Russian defense giant Rosoboronexport remains in negotiations with the U.S. on the sale of Mi-17 helicopters that will go to the fledgling Afghan air force.

The sale of the 30 helicopters remains in negotiation even though U.S. Army officials have said the sale is all but a done deal. In fact, the U.S. Army has received considerable scrutiny from Congress over the sale to include the previous blockage of the Army's top acquisition official's confirmation.

Alexander Mikheev, deputy director general of Rosoboronexport, said at the Paris Air Show on Monday the company remains in negotiations but remains optimistic over the deal. The U.S. Army had bought the previous Mi-17 helicopters from the Russian defense firm.

However, the increased scrutiny has come from the dealings of Rosoboronexport with Syria and the sale of weapons to President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the midst of the two-year civil war.

Last year, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, blocked the confirmation of Heidi Shyu, the Army's top civilian acquisition official, over his concern with the contract to buy 21 Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan air force. A year later the negotiation continues with the Russian defense firm even though they have not backed down from their commitment to the Assad regime.

U.S. Army officials have said the contract with Rosoboronexport is a necessity because the Afghan pilots are the most familiar with the Mi-17 and Rosoboronexport is the company that builds the helicopter.

Rosoboronexport along with other Russian defense companies have struck a prominent pose at the Paris Air Show as their aircraft have taken center stage with the U.S. aircraft absent from this year's show.

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