A top French official said Saturday that the possibility of a deal in exchange for Libya's release of Bulgarian medics was "a subject that never came up in our discussions."

France confirmed Friday that Libya had reached a major arms deal with the European aerospace giant EADS, the first since a weapons embargo was lifted on Tripoli in 2004 and a potential source of embarrassment for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Negotiations over the arms deal between EADS subsidiary MBDA and the Libyan authorities "had been going on for a long time and we never intervened to speed up their conclusion," presidential aide Claude Gueant said in an interview with the daily Le Figaro.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin confirmed Friday that a letter of intent had been signed for the sale of Milan anti-tank missiles and a radio communications system worth, according to a Libyan official, 296 million euros (405 million dollars).

News of the contracts sparked an uproar in France, coming a week after Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia helped broker the release of six foreign medics, sentenced to life imprisonment in Libya on charges of infecting hundreds of children with the AIDS virus.

The opposition Socialist Party immediately demanded a parliamentary enquiry to decide if France offered the contracts to Libya as a counterpart for the medics' freedom.

"If there was no exchange, if there was no bartering, why sign a military agreement with the Kadhafi regime, which has been responsible for terrorist acts, which has been a rogue state?" asked party leader Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy, who travelled to Tripoli to sign a nuclear and military cooperation agreement the following day, has denied suggestions of a trade-off, presenting the case as a French and European diplomatic coup.

Gueant, secretary-general at the Elysee presidential palace, told Le Figaro: "I learned only after I travelled to Tripoli that an MBDA mission had been staying in the Libyan capital for a month."

The speaker of the National Assembly Bernard Accoyer, a member of Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, said he supported calls for an enquiry and was confident it would ease the opposition's concerns.

The presidency issued a statement, hours after Sarkozy left for a lakeside summer vacation in New Hampshire, saying he would welcome an "enquiry into recent developments in the relations between France and Libya."

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son, Saif ul-Islam Kadhafi, has said unblocking the medics' case paved the way for the weapons contracts.

But defence minister Morin said the missile accord had been in the pipeline for months, though he acknowledged that "on arms contracts, the finalisation, the last touch, generally comes via a political act, a visit from the president, or prime minister."

He said the deal was approved in principle by the government of Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac in February 2007.