UAE stresses 'strategic relationship' with France
The United Arab Emirates and France share a "strategic relationship", the Gulf state's foreign minister said at a meeting with his French counterpart, the state news agency WAM reported on Sunday.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan met French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe at the annual Sir Bani Yas forum, an informal gathering on regional peace and security attended by top local and international officials.
Juppe arrived in the UAE on Saturday for talks on bilateral relations and the escalating crisis in Syria.
He was also expected to discuss the proposed sale of 60 Rafale fighter jets to the UAE, a deal which appears to have reached an impasse in the final stages of negotiations.
Sheikh Abdullah, in a statement quoted by WAM, stressed the importance of ties with France and called for efforts to "develop and strengthen them."
Juppe is responsible for overseeing the proposed sale to the UAE of the Rafale, which is used only by the French air force and has yet to be sold aboard.
But in a statement to WAM last week, the UAE's deputy head of the armed forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, said the French offer was "unworkable and uncompetitive."
The UAE has invited Eurofighter to make a counter offer, the European consortium said last week.
In 2009, France opened its first Middle East military base in the UAE, a move aimed at raising its regional profile alongside Washington and London.
Juppe is on a regional tour which included a stopover on Friday in Turkey, where he said "the time has come to increase sanctions" against the Syrian regime for its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.
He is to travel on to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
A French foreign ministry statement said prior to his departure that his trip would "provide an opportunity for consultations on regional issues, including the Syrian crisis and the Arab Spring."
© 2011 AFP