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Airbus A400M Negotiations To Continue

Talks about how to share increased price tag for the military transport plane will be continued soon in the aim of finding a solution by the end of January.

BERLIN (AP) -- Crucial negotiations between European aerospace contractor EADS and seven customer nations over the future of the troubled Airbus A400M military transport plane ended without an agreement Friday, a German government official said.

The talks about how to share the increased price tag for the four-engine turboprop aircraft will be continued soon in the aim of finding a solution by the end of January, Defense Ministry spokesman Christian Dienst said.

The meetings on Thursday and Friday morning took place in a "constructive atmosphere", Dienst said, but declined to give further details.

Instead, he repeated Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's position that Germany is resolute on the purchase of the transport plane, but had only limited willingness to increase funding.

"We are committed, but not at any price," Dienst told reporters at a regular government news conference.

A location and date for further negotiations were still being discussed, Dienst said.

French Defense Ministry spokesman Laurent Teisseire said the negotiations would be ongoing until end of January, but declined to comment further.

EADS spokesman Alexander Reinhardt in Paris equally refused to give any details on the talks.

The seven customer nations -- Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey -- and officials from EADS and its plane-making subsidiary Airbus had met at the defense ministry in Berlin to discuss what is one of Europe's most important defense projects.

The aircraft is now four years behind schedule and more than €5 billion ($7.3 billion) over budget, a sum EADS wants the governments to pay, even though a fixed price was agreed on in 2003.

Airbus has asked for a decision to be made by the end of January on how the project is to proceed.

French daily La Tribune reported Friday that EADS was ready to cover only €800 million of the additional cost. An EADS spokesman, called the report pure speculation.

Meanwhile, according to German media reports, a compromise solution was apparently discussed under which the price tag would remain unchanged but the customer nations would request fewer planes than the 180 currently on order.

A confidential audit, whose findings leaked on Wednesday to German daily Handelsblatt, blamed poor management by EADS as one of the main reasons for the exploding costs and delays, increasing the pressure on the manufacturer.

The A400M had its maiden flight last month in Spain. The four-engine turboprop is seen as inhabiting an important niche market between the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, which carries only half the payload, and Boeing's C-17 Globemaster III, which is larger, costlier, and less tactically versatile.

Jamey Keaten contributed to this report from Paris.

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