France announced on Friday the signing of a mega-arms contract worth 16 billion euros (18 billion dollars) for the sale of 80 of its modernized Rafale fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.
France’s defense ministry said the deal was France’s biggest arms deal ever for export. It came as French President Emmanuel Macron is in the Emirates for the first leg of a two-day visit to the Persian Gulf. There was no immediate confirmation of the signing from Emirati officials.
Manufacturer Dassault Aviation has said the UAE is purchasing the improved F4 version of its multi-purpose fighter. This will make the Emirates Air Force the first user of Rafale F4 outside of France, he said.
The deal offers a boost to the French defense industry after a failed $ 66 billion contract for Australia to purchase 12 French submarines.
Dassault Aviation boss Eric Trappier called the sale a “French success story” and “excellent news for France and its aeronautics industry”.
The purchase marks a significant step forward for the UAE’s military capabilities in the oil and gas-rich region. Charles Forrester, senior analyst at Janes, said the fighter “will dramatically improve the UAE’s air power capabilities in terms of strike, air-to-air warfare and reconnaissance.”
Dassault said the Rafale would offer the United Arab Emirates “a tool capable of guaranteeing sovereignty and operational independence”.
Macron and Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, were present at the signing of the contract, he said.
French defense officials were jubilant. Defense Minister Florence Parly said the agreement “contributes directly to regional stability”.
France maintains close ties with the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhs from the Arabian Peninsula, especially since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United Arab Emirates opened a French naval base in 2009 at Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi . French fighter jets and personnel are also stationed at Al-Dhafra Air Base, a major facility outside the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, which is also home to several thousand US troops.
Macron’s keen interest in forging personal relationships with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Mohamed bin Salman Al Saud, makes him a welcome guest in the region. The two Gulf leaders appreciate a certain pragmatism when discussing democracy and human rights – issues on which their countries have come under heavy criticism from rights groups and European lawmakers – while seeking answers. business opportunities.
A few months after Macron’s election in 2017, he traveled to the United Arab Emirates to inaugurate the Louvre Abu Dhabi, built as part of a $ 1.2 billion deal to share name and art. of the world famous museum in Paris.
In September, Macron welcomed the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to the historic Fontainebleau Castle outside Paris, which was restored in 2019 thanks to a donation from the United Arab Emirates of 10 million euros (11.3 millions of dollars).
The United Arab Emirates and France have also increasingly aligned themselves with a common distrust of Islamist political parties across the Middle East and have supported the same camp in the civil war in Libya.
A senior French presidential official who spoke to reporters ahead of the trip on the usual condition of anonymity said Macron “will continue to push and support efforts that contribute to the stability of the region, the Mediterranean in the Gulf ”.
Tensions in the Gulf will be discussed, official said, in particular the resumption of talks on Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, following President Donald’s withdrawal of the United States from the deal. Trump. Gulf countries have long been concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and influence in the region, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
“It’s a hot topic,” the French official said, adding that Macron discussed the issues during a phone call Monday with the Iranian president. He will speak about the call and the issues – including the talks on the nuclear deal in Vienna – with the Gulf leaders, who are “directly concerned by this subject, like all of us, but also because they are neighbors ( Iran), ”the official said.
France, along with Germany and the UK, believe the 2015 nuclear deal – with minor adjustments – is the way forward with Iran, analysts say. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have fiercely opposed the West’s deal with Iran.
“Although the Gulf countries did not like the West’s deal with Iran, the prospect of it acrimoniously collapsing is also bad for them and arguably presents worse risks,” said Jane Kinninmont, a London-based Gulf expert with the European Leadership Network. Tank.
“Their view has always been that the West should have gotten more out of Iran before sealing the deal,” Kinninmont said. “But if the West leaves with nothing, the Gulf countries begin to realize that their security will not improve as a result. “
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