x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

French military tours institute

French military officials visited the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research as part of ongoing efforts to build closer ties with the UAE.

ABU DHABI // French military officials visited the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research this week as part of ongoing efforts to build closer ties with the UAE. The delegation, including representatives of the French Ministry of Defence and the French Institute for Higher National Defence Studies, as well as Alain Azouaou, France's ambassador to the UAE, was given a tour by Dr Jamal al Suwaidi, the director of the centre.

The UAE is currently in talks to buy Rafale fighter planes, made by the French company Dassault, to replace its fleet of more than 60 Mirage jets. The Rafale, which has performed well in international combat aircraft tests, has a range of more than 1,800km and is capable of carrying both air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. Should the multibillion dirham deal go through, it will make the UAE the first country other than France to buy the planes.

In January, during a visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy, the UAE agreed to let a French military base be built near Abu Dhabi. About 500 French army, navy and air force personnel will be stationed at the base, which is due to open next year. It will provide logistical, communications and monitoring support to French forces operating in the region. France also agreed to help the UAE develop civilian nuclear power facilities.

"It is a sign to all that France is participating in the stability of this region of the world," the president said at the time. The decision to establish the French base has been condemned by the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini. "We are against military expansion in the region and we think the presence of foreign forces will not contribute to stability, but on the contrary will be a factor of insecurity and instability," he said.

"[The decision]... is a violation of international law and a unilateral decision that excludes Iran." In February and March, the French military took part in joint exercises with the armed forces of the UAE and Qatar, involving 5,000 troops. French military officials said the exercises were designed "specifically taking into account the threat of ballistic missiles", although UAE government sources denied they had anything to do with the escalation of tensions between the West and Iran.

France and the UAE conduct joint exercises each year as part of a defence pact signed in 1995. gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae