France's Macron travels to the Middle East in search of major contracts

·2 min read

The United Arab Emirates and France are poised to sign lucrative contracts when President Emmanuel Macron visits Dubai on Friday, as the two allies look to deepen economic and political ties. Macron will also visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia during his two-day tour of the Gulf.

In the Emirates, Macron is likely to sign a contract finalising the sale of dozens of French Rafale fighter jets.

A report in Challenges Magazine said the talks for between 30 and 60 planes were at an advanced stage and the deal could be sealed during Macron's visit. Neighbouring Qatar has ready ordered Rafales.

Briefing reporters on Tuesday, a French presidential official declined to confirm or deny the Rafale deal, only saying there would be "contracts signed" during the visit.

A UAE deal to buy American F-35 fighter jets has slowed amid concerns over the UAE's relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei 5G technology in the country.

Uncertainty

Macron's visit 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, securing flowing investments between both countries. Paris also has a permanent military base in the Emirati capital.

The on-off negotiations for the Rafale fighter jets have been ongoing for more than decade. Abu Dhabi already has Mirage warplanes.

Energy deal

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, Macron will meet de King Salman and the Saudi Minister of Energy to discuss an undisclosed "energy agreement."

Other points on the agenda are tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the crisis in Lebanon and the war in Yemen, which is subject of fierce criticism inside France.

France is one of the biggest arms seller to Saudi Arabia, after the US and the UK.In 2015, Saudi Arabia and France signed $12 billion of deals, including 23 Airbus H145 helicopters worth $500 million.

The deal caused some controversy.

Following concerns that French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE were being used against civilians in Yemen, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French parliament in December 2018 created a fact-finding mission on arms export control.

Headed by MPs Michèle Tabarot and Jacques Maire it probed Saudi use of French weapons in the war in Yemen, and was first revealed to the public by the investigative website Disclose in a report called “Made in France".

In 2020, the entire delegation of French MEPs from the liberal Renew Europe group stood against the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

France has reportedly supplied billions of euros worth of weapons to both Gulf nations while they were involved in the civil wars of Yemen and Libya.

(With agencies)

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