Macron to strike deal on Rafale fighter jet in UAE – .

Macron to strike deal on Rafale fighter jet in UAE – .

DUBAI, Dec.3 (Reuters) – France will sign several major deals with the United Arab Emirates on Friday, with two sources claiming Paris could finally seal a multibillion-dollar Rafale warplane sale as it seeks to deepen economic and political ties with Abu Dabi.

French President Emmanuel Macron begins a two-day trip to the Gulf on Friday, and will also visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia. His visit comes at a time when the Arab Gulf states have expressed uncertainty over the US focus on the region even as it seeks more weapons from its main security ally.

The French leader has forged good relations with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MBZ), with investments flowing between the two countries. Paris has a permanent military base in the UAE capital.

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The sources said Abu Dhabi could buy around 60 fighter jets, although they warned the deal was not finalized. It would be the biggest bulk purchase of the Rafale made by Dassault, other than the French military, and comes after deals in Greece, Egypt and Croatia this year.

“I don’t want to spoil the Christmas present with the president,” Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the president of the United Arab Emirates, told reporters ahead of the visit, when asked if Abu Dhabi would buy the fighter jets.

The French presidency declined to confirm or deny the sale and Dassault could not immediately be reached for comment.

Macron will attend a signing ceremony with MBZ on the sidelines of the 2020 Dubai Expo later on Friday, the presidency announced Thursday in a document on the French leader’s schedule.

On-off negotiations for Rafale fighter jets have been going on for more than a decade, with Abu Dhabi publicly rejecting France’s offer to supply 60 Rafale jets in 2011, calling it “uncompetitive and unworkable”. Abu Dhabi already has Mirage fighter jets.

French weekly Challenges reported on November 19 that talks were at an advanced stage for 30 to 60 planes and could be sealed during Macron’s visit. Neighboring Qatar has already ordered Rafales.

Defense sources say the Rafale will replace the Mirage 2000 fleet and is unlikely to replace the US F-35, as the UAE continues to cover their security with two main suppliers, France and United States.

The deal would nonetheless be seen as a signal of impatience as the US Congress hesitates to approve an F-35 deal amid concerns over the UAE’s relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei. [RIC:RIC:HWT.UL] 5G technology in the country.

“It’s an excellent relationship and various agreements will be signed. After the president’s visit, the relationship will be broader in different areas, ”Gargash said.

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Additional reports by Tim Hepher; Editing by Tim Hepher and Karishma Singh

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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