x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sarkozy: We'll take risks for our friends

The French president stresses the permanent military installation at Mina Zayed Port is not meant to target any nation in region.

Gen Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Minister of Interior (left) and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, attend the opening of a naval base in Abu Dhabi.
Gen Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Minister of Interior (left) and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, attend the opening of a naval base in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday that the French military base in Abu Dhabi reflected France's commitment to defend the UAE "no matter what happens" and was not directed against other nations. The French president yesterday inaugurated the naval component of France's first new military base outside its territory in 50 years, at Mina Zayed Port. He also met Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Sheikh Khalifa stressed, according to WAM, the state news agency, that Mr Sarkozy's visit would "contribute to widening the horizon for further co-operation at all levels in a way that serves the joint interests and friendly ties that link the two nations". In a speech delivered shortly after the inauguration, Mr Sarkozy said: "The permanent military presence of France does not target anyone. It has not been decided because of a particular circumstance.

"It simply reflects the commitment of France, in the long term, along with its friends: that should anything happen to them we would be on their side. "This is how is we recognise friends. For our friends, we must be ready to completely meet our engagements, to take risks, wherever these friends are." He said the base, which will soon be staffed by 500 French naval, army and air force personnel, was an indication of his country's desire to stand by the UAE.

He called the military base "the concrete evidence of our strong desire to stand by the United Arab Emirates no matter what happens". France forged its military alliance with the UAE in 1995 by signing a military co-operation agreement. Yesterday the two countries signed a similar agreement, believed to set out the conditions of their military alliance with the creation of the new base. "It is a framework for the two countries to jointly decide on appropriate responses, including military, where the security, sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the United Arab Emirates are affected," the French president said.

Much of the UAE Armed Forces' hardware is French-made, including more than 60 Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets and 400 tanks. The Air Force is considering the Dassault Rafale multi-role fighter jet to replace its Mirage fleet. The UAE has traditionally followed a policy of diversifying arms suppliers. The Armed Forces also has military hardware made in the US, Britain, Germany and Russia. Mr Sarkozy said France's engagement in the region reflected its responsibilities as a "global power".

He said the base reflected "the responsibilities that France as an international power intends to take, along with its privileged partners, in such a sensitive region for the whole world". Since becoming president two years ago, the French leader has led a more aggressive foreign policy that included an ambitious plan to create a Union for the Mediterranean nations and developing closer ties with the US after years of lukewarm relations following the 2003 war in Iraq.

Mr Sarkozy made it clear that the base would not be at the expense of France's existing military presence in Djibouti. "It is a testimony to the dynamism of France. The two locations of Abu Dhabi and Djibouti are not competing but complementary." Mr Sarkozy also spoke at length of the need to stabilise the price of oil. "Fluctuating oil prices is not in the interest of anyone. This is an issue that we can work on with the United Arab Emirates," he said. "High energy prices destabilise global economy and low prices can bear the seeds of confrontation.

"We must work together to fight against the volatility of oil prices because it serves nobody's interests: neither producers nor consumers." He said that because oil prices were no longer at last summer's peak of US$147 a barrel, it was possible for consumer and producer nations to engage in a dialogue to stabilise prices. "Why don't we agree on a price that stand for the minimum and maximum?" Mr Sarkozy asked.

He also spoke of the close ties between the two nations, saying that they had crafted a "strategic partnership" during his first visit to Abu Dhabi in January 2008. Since then the two governments have signed a number of agreements, most prominently one on nuclear co-operation. "With our partners in the Arab world ? I wanted to develop the foundations of an exemplary co-operation which observes transparency and respects international legal framework and rules of non-proliferation.

"Oil-producing countries need to prepare themselves for the post-oil era; the use of nuclear energy contributes also to the limitation of greenhouse gas emissions." The two countries signed four new agreements yesterday, including the updated defence accord. A second agreement pertained to security cooperation. A third was signed between Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi Government's investment arm, and France's Strategic Investment Fund, a ?20 billion (Dh100bn) fund. Mr Sarkozy said it was the first such agreement with a UAE sovereign investment fund.

The agreement between Mubadala and FSI establishes a co-operation framework to explore joint investments in French companies in sectors such as technology, health sciences and biotechnology, renewable energy and clean technologies, according to a press release issued on behalf of both parties. A fourth agreement would allow Emirati diplomats to be stationed in French embassies where the UAE does not have diplomatic representation.

France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said they could start with French embassies in Africa. He said crafting the four agreements had been a difficult task, taking months to define the terms of the agreements. During his address, Mr Sarkozy praised the UAE's culture and development. "It is a modern country but respectful of its traditions; it is a dynamic country and keen to maintain stability. Proud of its national identity, but open to other cultures," he said.

"Within a generation, the United Arab Emirates has become an experimental site of globalisation, a balanced one that is open to dialogue between cultures."
mhabboush@thenational.ae