A preliminary deal by President Nicolas Sarkozy to provide civilian nuclear technology to Libya was criticized by environmentalists and French leftists.
Sarkozy announced the deal - a first step toward selling Libya a nuclear-powered plant to desalinate sea water - during a visit to the North African country on Wednesday.
The French leader's trip came a day after Libya released five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been sentenced to life in prison on charges they deliberately contaminated children with the virus that causes AIDS.
Their release, partially brokered by French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy - who flew with the six to their homeland Tuesday aboard a French presidential plane - removed the last major obstacle to Libya's rejoining the international community.
Critics contended France used the nuclear deal as a bargaining chip to win the medics' release.
French-born Eurodeputy Daniel Cohn-Bendit of the Green Party called the deal a "ransom."
"France negotiated and has delivered a nuclear power plant," he told RTL radio.
The French government vehemently denied the charge.
"There is no link between the liberation of those poor people and any eventual contracts," Sarkozy said Wednesday. He said the deal did not represent a formal commitment, adding that it could take months or even years to finalize.
Sarkozy defended the project, saying access to civil nuclear technologies was crucial to the development of countries in the region.
"If they don't develop, how will they be able to fight against extremism and terrorism?" he asked.
Sarkozy's chief of staff, Claude Gueant, told France-Info radio that any future French nuclear cooperation would send a "strong political signal" that "countries like Libya that respect international regulations on nuclear energy can obtain the equipment necessary for their civilian needs."
In 2003, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi announced he was dismantling his nuclear weapons program, bringing about a lifting of U.S. and European sanctions.
French officials said a second project - to explore for uranium deposits in Libya - was under discussion.
Environmentalist group Greenpeace called the French deal "irresponsible."
"This deal poses enormous problems of nuclear proliferation and is a clear continuation of the French policy of irresponsibly exporting its nuclear technology," the organization said in a statement.
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