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UAE signs contract with France for 80 Rafale warplanes as Macron visits Gulf

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The United Arab Emirates signed a contract with France to buy 80 Rafale military fighter aircraft for €16 billion, French officials said.

Armies minister Florence Parly hailed it as an “historic contract”, stating it showed a “strategic partnership that is stronger than ever”.

She said that in addition to the fighter jets, the UAE signed a contract for the acquisition of 12 Caracal helicopters, assembled at the Airbus site in Marignane.

“This is excellent news which will perpetuate hundreds of jobs in France,” Parly said.

French President Emmanuel Macron is in the Emirates on the first stop of a two-day visit that will include trips to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

It comes a month before France will take over the rotating European Union presidency.

Macron is also expected to run for a second term in the April 2022 presidential election.

The contract could boost France’s defence industry after a multi-billion euro contract for submarines was scrapped by Australia earlier this year.

France and the UAE have long had a strategic partnership.

The UAE opened a French naval base in 2009 at Abu Dhabi’s Port Zayed. French warplanes and personnel are also stationed at Al-Dhafra Air Base, a major facility outside the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi that’s also home to several thousand American troops.

Months after Macron was elected in 2017, he travelled to the UAE to inaugurate Louvre Abu Dhabi. In September, Macron hosted Abu Dhabi’s crown prince at the historic Chateau de Fontainebleau, which was restored in 2019 with a UAE donation of €10 million.

The UAE and France have also become increasingly aligned over a shared mistrust of Islamist political parties across the Middle East and backed the same side in Libya’s civil strife.

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

The group that makes the Rafale, Dassault Aviation, said the contract was “the culmination of more than 45 years of a relationship of trust between the United Arab Emirates and our company.”

“The sale of 80 Rafale to the UAE Federation is a French success: I am very proud and very happy. I want to thank the UAE authorities for renewing their confidence in our planes,” said CEO Eric Trappier in a statement.

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