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British, French leaders meet for defence summit

British Prime Minister David Cameron hosts French President Francois Hollande on Friday for talks set to be dominated by increased cooperation on defence and differences over European Union reform.

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron hosts French President Francois Hollande on Friday for talks set to be dominated by increased cooperation on defence and differences over European Union reform.

The first Anglo-French summit since Hollande's election in 2012 takes place at a military base in Cameron's constituency in Oxfordshire, west of London, and will be followed by an informal lunch at a local pub.

Despite an agenda packed with weighty issues, Hollande is unlikely to escape questions from Britain's famously prurient press about his recent split from his partner, Valerie Trierweiler.

The setting of the Royal Air Force base at Brize Norton reflects the strong defence theme of the summit, which builds on a landmark agreement on defence and security cooperation between Britain and France in 2010.

In a significant move towards shared equipment and weaponry, the two countries will agree to the joint purchase of £500 million (about 600 million euros, $830 million) of anti-ship missiles for use on naval helicopters, British officials said.

They will also agree to spend £120 million on a two-year feasibility study into producing an armed drone, following provisional work by British and French companies BAE, Rolls-Royce, Thales and Dassault.

The ministers will review progress on setting up a joint force of up to 10,000 soldiers by 2016, and will also look into underwater drones for mine clearance.

The summit breathes fresh life into the 2010 defence agreement, which was signed by Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and appeared to stall when the current Socialist president was elected.

Despite their differences, both Cameron and Hollande are still driven by the need to cut defence spending following the global financial crisis.

France has also agreed to swap delivery slots for two Airbus A400M military transport aircraft, so that Britain can have them earlier than planned.

Hollande and Cameron will inspect a French A400M on the runway at Brize Norton at the start of the summit, which will also involve their respective defence, foreign, energy and science ministers.

They are expected to agree to boost cooperation in the fields of civil nuclear energy -- after French energy giant EDF signed a deal last year to build two reactors in Britain -- and space exploration, including the joint development of satellite parts.

EU treaty change

After the summit Hollande and Cameron will retire to a local pub for a lunch and likely a pint of beer, to discuss wider issues such as Syria, Iran and the contentious issue of EU reform.

Under pressure from eurosceptics in his Conservative party, Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU and put the new deal to a referendum by 2017, provided he wins the 2015 general election.

But French officials warned this week that the British prime minister may not get what he wants.

They said that while some EU treaty changes may be necessary, to allow greater integration of eurozone countries, it was not at all certain that this would happen within the timeframe that Cameron has set out.

A British official said the fact that France was even considering treaty change was progress.

"This time last year the question we were getting was 'but nobody wants any treaty change'. Now it's not if, it's when," said a British official.

"The prime minister very much sticks by his timetable.We'll keep at it. Will each country have its own perspective? Sure. But we remain very optimistic."

There are also likely to be some tensions over the frequent swipes made by Cameron's Conservatives about the Socialist president's handling of the French economy.

But French officials insisted they would rise above such criticisms at the summit, saying there will be no reciprocal "British-bashing".

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