Brazil favors France's Rafale jet - minister
* Defense Minister to recommend jet plane next week
* Only France can ensure full technology transfer-Jobim
* Says US has bad track record with technology embargoes
By Raymond Colitt
BRASILIA, April 7 (Reuters) - Brazil's air force prefers France's Rafale jet as its next-generation fighter despite the plane's higher price tag, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said on Wednesday.
Brazil is in the final stages of buying 36 jets worth more than $4 billion, which are to be assembled locally. The deal could eventually rise to more than 100 aircraft.
The three finalists are the Rafale made by Dassault (AVMD.PA), the Gripen NG made by Sweden's Saab (SAABb.ST), and the F-18 made by U.S.-based Boeing Co (BA.N).
Jobim told a congressional hearing the air force commander preferred the Rafale on defense policy grounds.
"He said that based on technical criteria, any of the three planes met the needs to control air space, but that the air force command considered the Rafale to be more consistent with defense policies despite its costs," Jobim said.
In January, local media reported the air force preferred the Gripen because it had lower purchase and maintenance costs and would allow for more technology to be transferred to Brazil.
Analysts said Jobim may have pressured the air force to change its position. Jobim and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva have repeatedly expressed their preference for the Rafale. Late last year, Lula said the choice was not technical but political and strategic and that he would have the final word.
Brazil has signed a strategic defense agreement with France worth billions of dollars, including the local assembly of helicopters and conventional and nuclear-powered submarines.
Latin America's largest country is looking for a generous technology transfer offer and local assembly as part of the deal.
France was the only country that could ensure those requirements, Jobim told legislators.
"What is worth more to Brazil? To pay more and have autonomy or pay less and have no technology autonomy?" he said.
Boeing had offered to assemble part of the plane's "sensitive" components in Brazil in an effort to convince Brazilian authorities there would be no restrictions on technology transfer, Jobim said.
"I'm not interested in that, I'm interested in the plane," Jobim said in reference to his reply to Boeing.
Jobim also said the U.S. government could give no upfront guarantee and that Brazil had seen a series of U.S. technology embargoes.
The Gripen involved a series of parts suppliers from different countries with which Brazil would have to negotiate separately, he added.
Jobim will present his recommendation to Lula as early as next week but it will still be reviewed by the National Defense Council before a final decision, he said. (Editing by Peter Cooney)
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