France's tricolour flag fluttered over a base in the Gulf for the first time today as President Nicolas Sarkozy formally opened the country's "Peace Camp" military complex in Abu Dhabi. During his brief visit, Mr Sarkozy pushed ahead with talks to try to secure a lucrative fighter plane deal with the United Arab Emirates. He revealed that France intends to submit proposals to world leaders at the G8 summit in July to try to end oil price volatility. French and UAE flags were hoisted at "Peace Camp", France's first new overseas base since the end of the colonial era, in a ceremony attended by the deputy prime minister and interior minister Sheikh Saif bin Zayed. The base will host up to 500 troops stationed in three sites on the banks of the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Paris is seeking to raise its profile in the region alongside Washington and London which also have Gulf bases, and is seeking defence contracts and nuclear energy deals. The opening of the site is seen as reflecting France's tougher stance on Iran since Sarkozy took office in 2007, fuelled by concerns over Tehran's nuclear programme. "Through this base ? the first in the Middle East ? France is ready to shoulder its responsibilities to ensure stability in this strategic region," Mr Sarkozy said in an interview with the official WAM news agency. France is a leading military supplier to the UAE, and the two countries are linked by a 1995 defence pact under which their armed forces chiefs meet once a year and their army troops conduct around 25 joint manoeuvres per year. The foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed reported progress in talks about the possible purchase of French Rafale fighter planes, a deal that could be worth up to Dh40 million.
"It was discussed... I can say there has been positive progress on this issue," he told reporters. France hopes the UAE can be persuaded to replace its fleet of French Mirage 2000 combat planes with 60 new multi-role Rafale jets. Mr Sarkozy, who arrived on Monday evening and left on Tuesday afternoon, said his plan for oil price stability will be unveiled when the G8 club of rich nations holds its next summit in Italy in July. "We all need more energy price stability. High oil prices greatly destabilise the global economy," he said. "Why not devise a deal between producers and consumers to present to the market over the general price direction... a price range that encourages investment but does not shackle the consuming economies." *AFP