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France, UAE Sign Weapons Mega-Deal     12/03 06:22

   France announced the signing Friday of a 16 billion-euro ($18 billion) 
armaments mega-contract for the sale of 80 of its upgraded Rafale warplanes to 
the United Arab Emirates.

   NICE, France (AP) -- France announced the signing Friday of a 16 
billion-euro ($18 billion) armaments mega-contract for the sale of 80 of its 
upgraded Rafale warplanes to the United Arab Emirates.

   The French Defense Ministry said the deal was France's largest-ever weapons 
contract for export. It came as French President Emmanuel Macron is in the 
Emirates on the first stop of a two-day visit to the Persian Gulf. There was no 
immediate confirmation of the signing from Emirati officials.

   Manufacturer Dassault Aviation said the UAE is buying the upgraded F4 
version of its multi-role combat aircraft. That will make the Emirates Air 
Force the first Rafale F4 user outside of France, it said.

   The deal offers a shot in the arm for France's defense industry after the 
collapse of a $66 billion contract for Australia to buy 12 French submarines.

   Dassault Aviation boss Eric Trappier called the sale "a French success 
story" and "excellent news for France and for its aeronautical industry."

   The purchase marks a sizeable step up for the UAE's military capabilities in 
the oil- and gas-rich region. Charles Forrester, a senior analyst at Janes, 
said the fighter "will significantly upgrade UAE's airpower capabilities in 
terms of strike, air-to-air warfare, and reconnaissance."

   Dassault said the Rafale will give the UAE "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 contract signing, it said.

   French defense officials were jubilant. The defense minister, Florence 
Parly, said the deal "directly contributes to regional stability."

   France has deep ties to the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven 
sheikdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, 
attacks. The UAE opened a French naval base in 2009 at Abu Dhabi's Port Zayed. 
French warplanes and personnel are also stationed at Al-Dhafra Air Base, a 
major facility outside the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi that's also home to 
several thousand American troops.

   Macron's keen interest in forging personal relationships with Abu Dhabi's 
crown prince and his counterpart in Saudi Arabia, Mohamed bin Salman Al Saud, 
makes him a welcome guest in the region. Both Gulf leaders value a degree of 
pragmatism when discussing democracy and human rights -- issues on which their 
countries have been heavy criticized by rights groups and European lawmakers -- 
while pursuing business opportunities.

   Months after Macron was elected in 2017, he traveled to the UAE to 
inaugurate Louvre Abu Dhabi, built under a $1.2 billion agreement to share the 
name and art of the world-famous museum in Paris.

   In September, Macron hosted Abu Dhabi's crown prince at the historic Chateau 
de Fontainebleau outside Paris, which was restored in 2019 with a UAE donation 
of 10 million euros ($11.3 million).

   The UAE and France have also become increasingly aligned over a shared 
mistrust of Islamist political parties across the Middle East, and backed the 
same side in Libya's civil strife.

   A senior French presidency official who spoke to reporters ahead of the trip 
on customary condition of anonymity said Macron will "continue to push and 
support the efforts that contribute to the stability of the region, from the 
Mediterranean to the Gulf."

   Gulf tensions will be discussed, the official said, in particular the 
revived talks about Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, following the U.S. 
withdrawal from the agreement by President Donald Trump. Gulf countries have 
long been concerned by Iran's nuclear ambitions and influence across the 
region, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

   "This is a hot topic," the French official said, adding that Macron 
discussed the issues in a phone call Monday with Iran's president. He will talk 
about the call and the issues -- including the nuclear deal talks in Vienna -- 
with Gulf leaders, who are "directly concerned by this subject, like all of us 
but also because they are (Iran's) neighbors," the official said.

   France, along with Germany and the U.K., thinks the 2015 nuclear agreement 
-- with minor tweaks -- is the way forward with Iran, analysts say. The UAE and 
Saudi Arabia have bitterly opposed the West's negotiated deal with Iran.

   "Although the Gulf countries did not like the West's deal with Iran, the 
prospect of it falling apart acrimoniously is also bad for them and arguably 
presents worse risks," said Jane Kinninmont, a London-based Gulf expert with 
the European Leadership Network think-tank.

   "Their view has always been the West should have gotten more out of Iran 
before sealing the deal," Kinninmont said. "But if the West walks away with 
nothing, the Gulf countries are beginning to understand that their security 
will not improve as a result."

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