Abu Dhabi // France will finish building its new military base in Abu Dhabi in the next several months, the country's ambassador said on Wednesday. The permanent base, announced in January during a state visit by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is expected to accommodate as many as 500 military personnel from the country's navy, air force and army, and further cement the country's deep ties to the UAE.
Mr Sarkozy is expected to inaugurate the base in the spring. Alain Azouaou, the French ambassador, described the base as part of the "natural evolution" of his country's military co-operation with the Emirates, which officially began with a mutual defence agreement in 1995. "French forces concentrate on an axis of geographical priority, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and the Gulf and Indian Ocean. It is on that axis that risks to our strategic interests are highest," Mr Azouaou said in an interview.
"The decision to establish a permanent military base in the UAE is part of a policy that will ensure that France is present where it should be present. It also takes into account the growing importance of Asia to international security." France has had close links with the UAE dating back to the 1970s, but has expanded its cultural, military and economic ties significantly over the past several years. Paris-Sorbonne University has a satellite campus in Abu Dhabi. France is one of several countries helping the UAE with nuclear-energy technology. And one of the country's premier cultural treasures, the Louvre Museum, is lending its name to a museum in the capital expected to open in 2012.
Mr Azouaou also said he expected a free-trade agreement between the GCC and EU to be completed before the end of the year. The accord, which the ambassador said would be the first free-trade agreement between trading blocs, has been under negotiation for nearly 20 years. Mr Sarkozy has made completing the long negotiations a top priority. "I think that in the context of the financial and economic crisis, these kinds of agreements between regional groups are very important," Mr Azouaou said. "It's been part of what we have been saying for several weeks now: our president has pushed to have more dialogue, more discussions."