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Sarkozy opens 1st military base in the Gulf

Article published on the 2009-05-26 Latest update 2009-05-26 13:48 TU

Nicolas Sarkozy meets UAE's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayi in Abu Dhabi(Credit: Reuters)

Nicolas Sarkozy meets UAE's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayi in Abu Dhabi
(Credit: Reuters)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened a French military base in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, in an effort to gain a strategic foothold in the Gulf, especially in light of the harder stance France has taken on Iran since 2007. Dubbed "Peace Camp", the base, projected to host up to 500 troops in the Strait of Hormuz, located across the water from Iran, is also part of a plan to secure defence contracts and nuclear energy deals.

"The general mission of this base is to support our forces deployed in the Indian Ocean but will also serve to develop bilateral military cooperation," said base commander Colonel Herve Cherel.

Sarkozy arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday for a 20-hour visit to inaugurate the base on Tuesday. He was accompanied by top French business leaders, who are hoping to gain contracts in the future to supply combat planes to the small, oil-rich Emirates. However, officials say that no firm agreements are expected to be inked on this trip.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan did tell reporters that purchasing fighter planes was discussed. "I can say there has been positive progress on the issue," he said.

France is linked to UAE in a number of ways, including a 1995 defence pact. France is the UAE's biggest defence materiel supplier. The two countries conduct some 25 joint war games manoeuvres each year.

The base consists of three parts: the naval area, the army section, and the air base, which has been operational since October 2008 and already holds 57 personnel and three Mirage 2000-5s planes.

The complete permanent base, the first established by France in 50 years, has come under some criticism within France. Centrist politician Francois Bayrou has argued that this move could raise the risk of France entering a conflict in the area.

All three parts are slated to open in September 2010.

The other part of the new base equation is the UAE's desire to gain nuclear power for peaceful purposes by 2015. Although it is the third-largest oil producer worldwide, the country estimates greater electricity needs within the next 10 years.