WASHINGTON (AFP) - France has agreed to pay the United States US$60 million (S$80 million) to compensate Americans and foreigners deported to Nazi death camps on French rail transport during World War II, diplomats announced Friday.
The agreement, which has been at least two years in the making, should now open the way to allow French rail firm SNCF to bid on major contracts in the US state of Maryland.
Several thousands people could be eligible for compensation, including nationals from Israel and Canada as well as Americans who were deported from France to the death camps during World War II.
News of the agreement came in simultaneous press briefings in Washington by both the US and French negotiators on Friday.
During the occupation of France by Germany, the Nazi regime deported almost 76,000 Jews to concentration camps in French freight cars between 1942 and 1944.
Only around 3,000 survived.
Maryland lawmakers had demanded that SNCF compensate the victims before being allowed to join a bidding process on a 25km public-private light rail project worth nearly US$3 billion for local projects and introduced bills to that effect.
But the French rail firm had protested that it had no choice as it was simply a "cog in the Nazi extermination machine" and that any eventual compensation should be paid by the French government.
The deal is due to be signed on Monday by US special adviser on Holocaust issues Stuart Eizenstat and French ambassador on human rights Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay.
Eizenstat told reporters Friday that under the terms of the "historic" deal Paris would pay a US$60 million lump sum to Washington to compensate the survivors, or their spouses and heirs.
He had no exact figure of how many could be eligible, but said it was expected to run into "several thousand."
Survivors could receive up to US$100,000 each, while spouses or heirs could several tens of thousands of dollars, he said.
The head of SNCF America, Alain Leray, hailed the settlement Friday saying it was "a welcome conclusion for all those who sought to win compensation for the victims and their families."
It will enter into law once it is voted on by the French parliament, and signed by President Barack Obama in an executive order.
SNCF, in eyeing the Maryland contract, is part of a consortium comprising fellow French firms Alstom and Vinci.
A winning bid is expected to be picked by the end of the year or in early 2015.