ABU DHABI May 25 France prepared to open its
first military base in the Gulf Arab region on Monday as it eyed
multi-billion-dollar deals to supply the United Arab Emirates
with nuclear power plants and advanced military aircraft.
French officials said the naval base in Abu Dhabi, capital
of the UAE, the world's third-largest petroleum exporter, would
deepen ties to the Gulf Arab state and fortify efforts to battle
piracy and defend trade.
"We look at this cooperation as an important pillar of our
foreign policy because it helps the stability in the Gulf
region," UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan said
in comments read at a maritime security conference.
President Nicolas Sarkozy will open the base on Tuesday.
The UAE, the world's third-largest oil exporter, plans to
build a number of nuclear reactors to meet an expected need for
an extra 40,000 megawatts of electricity by 2017.
U.S. nuclear reactor builders GE (GE.N) and Westinghouse
Electric Co, a subsidiary of Toshiba Corp (6502.T), stand to get
a big share of the expected $40 billion market if the U.S.
Congress approves the deal.
French firms plan to compete for the business. France's
Total (TOTF.PA), Suez LYOE.PA, and state nuclear reactor maker
Areva CEPFi.PA said last year they planned to develop two
third-generation nuclear reactors in the UAE.
The UAE also wants French support for its bid to host the
headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency
(IRENA), the global green energy body, in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh
"The UAE government has requested to host IRENA, we hope you
will support our request," he said.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told the conference
the naval base in Abu Dhabi aimed to support and train France's
allies in the fragile region.
"Some 90 percent of European trade traffic is by sea and we
have to defend traffic and trade and we are interested in the
Gulf and want to bring about the necessary balance in this
region," he said.
France will also play a major role in combating piracy in
the region. "The naval base is also strategic for international
security and stability. We assure maritime trade security in
this region, the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf waters and the
Indian Ocean," he said.
Kouchner declined to comment on whether the UAE had
finalised a deal to buy Rafale fighter planes from France's
Dassault Aviation (AVMD.PA).
Dassault said on Saturday it was in talks with the UAE on a
possible order for its Rafale fighters, in what would be the
first sale of the aircraft to a foreign buyer.
The newspaper Le Parisien reported earlier on Saturday that
France was finalising the sale of 60 Rafale jets in a deal worth
6-8 billion euros ($8-11 billion), and that Sarkozy would
personally push the issue during his visit to Abu Dhabi.
Dassault declined to confirm the figures and said an
agreement might be reached this year.
(Reporting by Stanley Carvalho; editing by Thomas Atkins and