x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

UAE to put diplomats in French embassies

Paris agrees to give space to envoys in countries with no Emirati mission as details emerge on France's new Abu Dhabi base.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, talks to his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner at the opening of the Maritime Security Co-operation Conference.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, talks to his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner at the opening of the Maritime Security Co-operation Conference.

ABU DHABI // The UAE will station diplomats in French embassies in countries where the Emirates have no diplomatic mission under an agreement announced yesterday. Further deals to strengthen ties between the two nations are expected, and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrived in Abu Dhabi last night, is due this morning to open France's first military base in the Gulf.

"We will sign a memorandum of understanding under which Emirati diplomats will be appointed in French diplomatic missions in countries where we don't have diplomatic representation," said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, in his opening remarks at the Maritime Security Co-operation Conference in Abu Dhabi. He told the conference, which included senior members of both the UAE and French navies, that France was vital to the Emirates' foreign policy.

"We view this co-operation as a major pillar of our foreign policy. It is at the top of this policy because it helps in the stability and development of the Gulf region." Sheikh Abdullah said Mr Sarkozy's visit "will have the deepest effect on strengthening relations at all levels". Among the other deals that could be signed during the visit is a revised version of the 1995 military co-operation agreement.

The Foreign Minister also spoke of the UAE's plans for a peaceful nuclear energy programme, describing it as "evidence of transparency and honest vision based on a real desire to have nuclear energy". During Mr Sarkozy's visit to Abu Dhabi in January last year, the countries signed a nuclear co-operation agreement, and last week, President Barack Obama of the US approved a similar deal. Britain is also bidding for the contract, the winner of which is expected to be named this year.

"The goal is to have nuclear energy and there is no other [goal] as we see in some other cases," said Sheikh Abdullah, apparently alluding to Iran's nuclear programme. Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the UAE's grand regional strategy was based on "regional stability, priority of development and tolerance". "We stress the need for collective action. This is a priority that comes before any other priority," he said,

He added that the new French naval base was part of an overall GCC policy of forging partnerships to secure stability. France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, also spoke at yesterday's conference, organised by the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. He called for international co-operation to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, stressing his country's role in fighting what GCC leaders described in December as a form of terrorism.

France has been involved in antipiracy operations since September 2007. In that time French forces have arrested at least 70 pirates. One French citizen was killed last month during a rescue operation mounted by the French special forces to free a number of hostages off the coast of Somalia. French and Emirati navy chiefs said that the base would contribute to the strong French naval presence in the Indian Ocean by serving as a supply station.

Admiral Pierre François Forissier, head of the French Navy, outlined new details of France's first military base outside its territory in 50 years. The base - named "Peace Camp" - will see French military personnel and hardware stationed permanently at Mina Zayed port and Al Dhafra Air Base. In an interview with The National, he said the naval part of the base would include nearly 80 non-combatants.

"The administration of the Indian Ocean fleet will be based here. It's only administrative," he said. "It's not an operational base, it's not a base to practise military activities, it's just to support our permanent deployment in the area to secure our lines of communication." Admiral Forissier said that the army and air force division of the base would be used for training to fight in a desert environment. He said Mr Sarkozy had instructed that about six Rafale fighter jets should be stationed at the base, as that would make their deployment easier than having to bring them from France.

Asked if the UAE Navy would take part in antipiracy efforts, he said it was too early for that. "Today it's not possible because we're just at the beginning and yet we're developing good practices and rules to work against pirates." Rear Adml Ahmed al Tunaiji, chief of the UAE's Naval Forces, said on the sidelines of the conference that the base could not be defined in traditional terms comparable to the US military bases in Qatar and Bahrain. Instead, he said, it was more of a "camp".

"This is not a base as we know it, it is more of a residence where crews can come here to rest," he said. Meanwhile yesterday, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, met Hans Rudolf Merz, president of the Swiss Confederation, who was in the country on a state visit. mhabboush@thenational.ae