DUBAI, Dec 3 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates ordered 80
Rafale fighter jets and 12 military helicopters on Friday,
deepening economic and political ties with France through an
arms contract worth 17 billion euros ($19.20 billion).
The largest ever overseas sale of the French warplane was
sealed as French President Emmanuel Macron began a two-day trip
to the Gulf, during which he will also visit Qatar and Saudi
"These contracts are important for the economy and create
jobs in France. What is good for French men and women, I defend
ardently," Macron told reporters, dismissing concerns by
activists that French arms sales in the Gulf were fuelling
conflicts in the region.
The French presidency said the deal, signed at a ceremony
between Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed
al-Nahyan (MBZ) and Macron on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo
2020, is worth $19 billion.
The first French warplanes will be delivered from 2027,
officials, and would create some 7,000 jobs.
Macron's visit comes at a time when Gulf Arab states have
voiced uncertainty about the United States' focus on the region
even as they seek more weapons from their key security ally.
The French leader has forged a good relationship with MBZ
with investments flowing between the two countries. Paris has a
permanent military base in the Emirati capital.
Shares in Dassault Aviation SA , the Rafale's
maker, rose more than 9%.
It is the biggest bulk purchase of the Dassault-made Rafale,
other than by the French army, and comes after deals in Greece,
Egypt and Croatia this year.
Abu Dhabi also ordered 12 Caracal helicopters. It is the
French code name for the H225M, the multirole military version
of the Super Puma.
The on-off negotiations for the Rafale fighter jets took
more than a decade with Abu Dhabi publicly rebuffing France's
offer to supply 60 Rafale jets in 2011 as "uncompetitive and
unworkable". Abu Dhabi already has French-built Mirage 2000
"This French commitment in the region, this active
cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the clear positions
we have taken mean that we have increased our proximity to the
UAE," Macron said.
"And at a time when they undoubtedly asked themselves more
questions about other historical partners ... I think that this
strengthens France's position," he said referring to the United
Defence sources said the Rafale would replace the Mirage
2000 fleet but is unlikely to displace the American-built F-35
as the UAE continues to hedge its security with two major
suppliers, France and the United States.
The deal could nonetheless be seen as a signal of impatience
as the U.S. Congress hesitates on approving an F-35 deal amid
concerns about the UAE's relationship with China, including the
prevalence of Huawei 5G technology in the country.
"That says a lot about the extraordinary aura that Abu Dhabi
has acquired over Paris' ideological and strategic thinking It
is the first time that a close U.S. partner in the Arab world
will rely more on French technology than American technology,"
said Jalel Harchaoui, a senior fellow at the Global Initiative
Against Transnational Organized Crime.
Paris is one of the UAE's main arms' suppliers, but it has
faced increasing pressure to review its sales because of the
conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned
Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has become one of the world's
worst humanitarian crises.
"France is going ahead with these sales despite the UAE
playing a leading role in the atrocity-marred military
operations led by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen," Human
Rights Watch said in a statement. "The French president should
denounce the human rights violations in these three counties.
($1 = 0.8856 euros)
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Tim Hepher,
Karishma Singh, Simon Cameron-Moore and David Evans)