FRANCE TO TAKE PART IN TWO LARGE SCALE WAR GAMES IN THE GULF NEXT WEEK
FEB 24 2008
French armed forces will take part in large-scale war games in the Gulf next week, underlining France’s growing military presence in the region as heightened tensions persist over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
France will deploy 1,500 personnel, two frigates and eight Mirage fighter jets to the defence exercises, held in conjunction with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Paris has long-standing defence co-operation agreements with the two countries and is one of their biggest suppliers of arms. But its involvement in the joint manoeuvres, which have been code-named Gulf Shield, follows President Nicolas Sarkozy’s announcement last month of a permanent French base in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital.
The base, across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, will give France its first permanent foothold in the Gulf and will send a signal to Tehran that Paris is determined to protect its strategic interests in the region.
Iran has criticised Mr Sarkozy’s announcement as an “unfriendly” move.
“We believe such a presence is not conducive to peace and security in the region,” Mohammad Ali Hosseini, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, said at the time.
The French president has adopted a tougher stance than that of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, against Iran’s nuclear activities and is seeking stronger international sanctions against Tehran.
A UAE official said there was nothing new in French military exercises in the Gulf, but these war games come at a time of diplomatic manoeuvring.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the UAE’s prime minister and ruler of Dubai, undertook some rare shuttle diplomacy this week, with visits to both Iran and its ally, Syria.
The French base will be contained within a UAE facility and will eventually house up to 400 personnel from the navy, army and air force.
It is intended as a depot to support French maritime surveillance operations in the Gulf, allowing ships to spend more time in the region. A UAE official said it could develop into a more comprehensive base over time.
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