DUBAI: French President Emmanuel Macron met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Friday at the start of a two-day Gulf tour that saw France sell the UAE 80 French-made Rafale warplanes for $18.08 billion (€16 billion).
France’s Defence Ministry said the deal was France’s largest-ever weapons contract for export while the Minister for the Armed Forces hailed the deal as “historic.”
There was no immediate confirmation of the deal from Emirati officials. Macron was greeted at the leadership pavilion at Dubai’s Expo site for talks with Sheikh Mohammed.
“I don’t want to reveal the Christmas present” before the meeting, UAE presidential adviser Anwar Gargash told journalists in the build-up to the talks in Dubai.
Macron arrived in the early hours of Friday for a brief Gulf tour where he will also visit Qatar, host of next year’s World Cup, before traveling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday.
The UAE, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday, is expected to order dozens of Rafale jets to replace its Mirage 2000 aircraft acquired in the late 1990s.
The Emirates is the fifth biggest customer for the French defence industry with $5.31 billion (€4.7 billion) from 2011-2020, according to a parliamentary report.
Ties between Mohammed Bin Zayed and France have improved under Macron’s leadership. Mohammed Bin Zayed (who has held ‘de facto’ power since his half-brother on his father’s side, Khalifa bin Zayed, suffered a stroke in 2014), thanks to their good personal relationship. This is evidenced by their energy trade relations, which in 2019 reached an all-time high of nearly €1.5 billion in Emirati hydrocarbon exports to France. However, this supply does not include diesel.
Macron is accompanied by a large delegation in Dubai including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Defence Minister Florence Parly.