ABU DHABI // The visit of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, to the UAE this week will be an opportunity to discuss the Middle East peace process and other pressing regional issues, his chief diplomatic adviser said. Jean-David Levitte said Mr Sarkozy would hold talks with Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as well as Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
"The talks will centre on a number of important issues, including the future of bilateral relations, regional issues such as the Middle East peace process, the future of Afghanistan and Somalia and the Iranian nuclear dossier," Mr Levitte said, according to WAM, the state news agency. Mr Sarkozy is due to arrive tomorrow, and will attend the opening of the French navy base at Port Zayed on Tuesday. He will also lay the foundation stone for the Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum on Saadiyat Island.
The UAE and French navies are also holding an international maritime conference tomorrow and on Tuesday at the Armed Forces Officers' Club. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner are scheduled to deliver keynote speeches at the conference, which is expected to provide some insight into French intentions for the base. France, along with South Korea, Japan and the US, is in the running to set up the UAE's nuclear programme and build a series of reactors across the country over the next 15 years. Mr Levitte said France expected to face stiff competition when bids for building the reactors were invited in July.
"In the economic field, the UAE has the world's fifth-largest energy reserves," he added. "Still it has adopted a wise strategy to preserve this wealth by setting up atomic reactors for production of energy for local consumption." Meanwhile, the French daily newspaper Le Parisien reported yesterday that the UAE was on the verge of completing an order for 60 Rafale combat jets from France in a deal that could be worth up to eight billion euros (Dh41bn).
While there was no official confirmation of a pending deal from the UAE or French governments, the two parties have been in talks for some time over a deal to buy Rafale jets. The French government has also been in contact with other Gulf states over the possible purchase of the jets. The UAE previously bought 60 Mirage fighter jets and 400 tanks from the French government. firstname.lastname@example.org