Macron visits Gulf seeking arms deal, stronger regional role

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French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting the energy-rich Persian Gulf on Friday, hoping to seal a major arms contract and strengthen France’s role in the region after this fall’s Australian submarine deal debacle. Will go

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The two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia comes a month before France assumes the presidency of the European Union – and ahead of France’s 2022 presidential election where Macron is expected to run for a second term.

Returning from the Gulf with a contract to sell French fighter jets to the Emirates, Paris and Abu Dhabi have been in discussions for almost a decade, following the collapse of a $66 billion contract to buy 12 French submarines for Australia, France’s defense. Industry will get a boost. ,


And the red carpet treatment Macron can expect from Gulf political stalwarts is to project France as the EU’s powerhouse in the Gulf and Middle East since Britain’s exit from the bloc.

“Macron stands among EU leaders with a willingness to be in the spotlight, advance foreign policy and move things forward,” said Sylvia Colombo, an expert on EU-Gulf relations at the International Affairs Institute in Rome.

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But, primarily, Macron is pursuing French business interests, Colombo said. “They have a very clear idea that they have to go where the business community wants to be, where France can make an economic profit.”

Macron’s keen interest in building personal relationships with leaders such as the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his Saudi counterpart, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, makes him a welcome guest. Both Gulf leaders value pragmatism to some degree when discussing democracy and human rights – issues that have been heavily criticized by rights groups and European lawmakers in their countries – while pursuing business opportunities.

France has close ties to the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven shekdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, especially since the September 11, 2001 attacks. The UAE opened a French naval base at Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi in 2009. French warplanes and personnel are also stationed at Al-Dhafra Air Base, a major facility outside the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi that is also home to several thousand US troops.

Months after Macron was elected in 2017, he traveled to the UAE to inaugurate the Louvre Abu Dhabi, built under a $1.2 billion agreement to share the name and art of the world-renowned museum in Paris.

In September, Macron hosted the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi at the historic Chateau de Fontainebleau outside Paris, which was restored in 2019 with a 10 million euro ($11.3 million) donation from the UAE.

The United Arab Emirates and France have also become increasingly aligned on the shared mistrust of Islamic political parties in the Middle East, and have supported the same side in the Libyan civil conflict.

A senior French presidential official, who spoke to reporters ahead of the visit on customary condition of anonymity, said Macron “will continue to pursue and support efforts that contribute to the stability of the region from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.”

Gulf tensions will be discussed, the official said, especially after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal, reviving talks about Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Gulf states have long been concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and influence across the region, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

“This is a hot topic,” said the French official, after Macron discussed the issues in a phone call with Iran’s president on Monday. The official said he would call and discuss issues – including the nuclear deal talks in Vienna – with Gulf leaders, who are “directly concerned with this topic, like all of us, but also because they (Iran’s) neighbors,” the official said.

Analysts say a 2015 nuclear deal with France, Germany and the UK – with minor changes – is the way forward with Iran. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have strongly opposed the West’s negotiating agreement with Iran.

“While the Gulf states may not have liked the West’s deal with Iran, the prospect of it breaking out with acrimony is worse for them and arguably presents a worse risk,” said Jane Kinnamont, a London-based Gulf expert at the European Leadership Network Think. ” tank

“Their view has always been that the West should have gotten more from Iran before sealing the deal,” Kinnamont said. “But if the West leaves with nothing, the Gulf countries are beginning to understand that their security will not improve as a result.”


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