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Page last updated at 09:34 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 10:34 UK

French President Sarkozy opens UAE base

French troops at a base near Abu Dhabi on 25 May
The UAE base will host up to 500 French troops

President Nicolas Sarkozy has formally opened a French military base in the United Arab Emirates, France's first permanent base in the Gulf.

The flags of France and the UAE were raised at a ceremony at the so-called "Peace Camp" in the Abu Dhabi emirate.

France is a leading military supplier to the Gulf state, and signed a nuclear co-operation agreement last year.

Its new base will host up to 500 French troops and include a navy base, air base, and training camp.

The BBC's Stephanie Hancock in Abu Dhabi says the new military base, France's first outside its own territory for many years, comes on the back of strengthening diplomatic and military ties between France and the United Arab Emirates.

The 500 troops will be there on a support and training capacity, rather than taking part in actual military operations.

Through this base - the first in the Middle East - France is ready to shoulder its responsibilities to ensure stability in this strategic region
President Nicolas Sarkozy

But our correspondent says the base will provide all-important reassurance to the Emirates, which, along with many of its Arab neighbours, is concerned about the nuclear threat posed by Iran.

"Be assured that France is on your side in the event your security is at risk," Mr Sarkozy said in an interview with the UAE's official news agency.

"Through this base - the first in the Middle East - France is ready to shoulder its responsibilities to ensure stability in this strategic region."

An aide to Mr Sarkozy is quoted by AFP news agency linking the base to an alleged Iranian threat: "We are deliberately taking a deterrent stance. If Iran were to attack, we would effectively be attacked also."

Correspondents say the base has drawn some criticism in French political circles for just that reason, with centrist politician Francois Bayrou warning that France risked being dragged into a regional war.

Business partnership

Mr Sarkozy flew to Abu Dhabi on Monday with four ministers and a delegation of senior businesspeople.

Map

He opened the visit by dining with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

Officials said talks are continuing over the possible sale of 60 new Rafale jets to the UAE in a deal worth up to eight billion euros ($11bn).

The multi-role Rafale - which has yet to find a foreign buyer - could replace the Emirates' fleet of French Mirage 2000 combat planes.

In addition to the inauguration of Peace Camp, Nicolas Sarkozy will visit the site of a Louvre Museum branch which France is opening in the United Arab Emirates.

The US maintains the predominant foreign military presence in the Gulf, with key air bases and logistics operations, and its Fifth Fleet housed in Bahrain.

However, Peace Camp gives France a strategic position on the vital Gulf shipping corridor, which carries about 40% of the world's petroleum supplies.



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