By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates and France will sign major contracts when President Emmanuel Macron visits Dubai on Dec. 3 , a senior Emirati official said on Tuesday, as the two close allies look to deepen economic and political ties.
“I don’t want to spoil the Christmas present with the president,” Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, told reporters when asked whether Abu Dhabi would purchase French Dassault Rafale fighter jets. “This is an excellent relationship and various agreements will be signed. After the president’s visit the relationship will be broader in different areas,” he said, adding these included technology and healthcare.
Macron begins a two-day trip to the Gulf, which also includes Qatar and Saudi Arabia, on Friday. It comes at a time when Gulf Arab states have voiced uncertainty about the United States’ focus on the region even as they seek more weapons from their key security ally. The French leader has forged a good relationship with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan with investments flowing between both countries. Paris has a permanent military base in the Emirati capital.
The on-off negotiations for the Rafale fighter jets have been going on for more than decade. Abu Dhabi already has Mirage warplanes. Challenges Magazine reported on Nov. 19 that talks were now at an advanced stage for between 30-60 planes and could be sealed during Macron’s visit. Neighbouring Qatar has already ordered Rafales.
Briefing reporters on Tuesday, a French presidential official declined to confirm or deny the Rafale deal saying only there would be contracts signed during the visit. A UAE deal to buy American F-35 fighter jets has slowed amid concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei 5G technology in the country.
“France is a reliable ally and we see it as an important player in the region. We’ve had a consistent relationship with France over four decades. President Macron’s visit will consolidate that,” said Gargash.