Abu Dhabi is said to be interested in the purchase of Rafale fighter planes as part of broader Emirati vision towards diversifying sources of armament.
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (R) upon his arrival at the Fontainebleau’s castle in Fontainebleau, on September 15, 2021. (AFP)
PARIS--Analysts see the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to France as being tied to Emirati-French attempts to build a new alliance that could fill the void left by Washington’s disengagement from the Arab Gulf region.
Since the inauguration of the US administration of President Joe Biden there has been an impression of dwindling American commitment to Gulf security. This was triggered by Washington’s decision to reduce its military presence including the withdrawal of the Patriot air-defence missile system from the region and limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
On Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammedbin Zayed met French President Emmanuel Macron over lunch at the Fontainebleau Palace, east of Paris.
Macron and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi vowed to work together to counter Islamic extremism after talks that aides said underlined the strength of their partnership.
Abu Dhabi has in the last month served as a hub for the evacuation by Paris of French nationals and Afghans from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“Both sides emphasised … they were both determined to fight extremism and terrorism and to strengthen their cooperation in security and defence,” the French presidency said in a statement after the talks.
On Afghanistan, both also insisted on the need “to respect the rights of women and girls, as well as minorities” after the takeover by the Taliban.
According to the Emirati News Agency WAM, the two sides discussed “opportunities to develop relations and exchanged views on regional developments, especially the current developments in Afghanistan.” They stressed the importance of promoting efforts to enhance security, peace and stability in the region through diplomatic efforts and effective dialogue.
UAE Ambassador to France Hend Al Otaiba said that Sheikh Mohammedbin Zayed’s visit to Paris was an opportunity to highlight the outstanding strategic partnership between the two countries, stressing the common vision of Paris and Abu Dhabi and their desire to promote further cooperation.
Analysts say Sheikh Mohammed can rely on the special relationship he has with Macron and the extent of UAE investment in France to clinch a deal to buy Rafale fighter aircraft. This will be as part of a broader Emirati diversifaction of its sources of armament.
The French president has previously defended arms sales to Gulf states, describing Riyadh and Abu Dhabi as allies in the war on terrorism and stressing that Paris had received guarantees that they would not be used against civilians.
The UAE talked with France about buying 60 Rafale combat aircraft a few years ago. Egypt’s acquisition of the warplane will encourage Abu Dhabi and Paris to move ahead with their own deal.
Egypt had signed a contract in May to buy 30 Rafale fighter jets, in a deal worth €3.75 billion ($4.5 billion).
Military experts say that the performance of the aircraft in combat, in 2007 in Afghanistan, in Libya in 2011 and the Sahel region in 2013, built it a global reputation, prompting many countries to place orders.
The UAE is already a customer of the French arms makers. Its army operates 436 Leclerc assault tanks. It has also become a key strategic partner for France in the Middle East and is second only to Saudi Arabia in Franco-Gulf trade. The two also maintain a solid alliance in the war on terror.
The UAE accounts for 45 percent of direct Arab investments in France and there are some fifty companies wholly or partially owned by Emirati businessmen.
On the cultural level, France and the UAE have set up the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi and in Fontainebleau Abu Dhabi has financed the restoration of the Imperial Theatre, whose construction dates back to the era of Napoleon III. This is now known now as the “Theatre of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE.”
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