Qatar and France yesterday signed a 6.3bn euro ($7.02bn) deal for the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets, an accord President Francois Hollande hailed as a mark of Gulf Arab regard for French regional strategy.
The accord was signed as President Hollande paid a one-day visit to Qatar.
“It’s a good choice,” said Hollande, who went later to Saudi Arabia, where he is to attend a summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Riyadh today.
At the signing ceremony, Hollande hailed France’s ties with Gulf countries and his invitation to the GCC summit.
“It is an honour for France, a sign of friendship and of confidence,” he said.
The agreement with Qatar includes an order for 24 Rafale fighter jets, with an option on a further 12.
“If we are present here in Qatar... it is because there has been a long tradition, and because France is seen as a reliable country which a partner country can have confidence in,” he said, adding that French ‘credibility’ in the region helped with Rafale sales.
HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and President Hollande held official talks at the Emiri Diwan before noon yesterday.
The meeting was attended by HH the Deputy Emir Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad al-Thani, HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani and a number of ministers.
On the French side, the meeting was attended by members of the official delegation accompanying the president.
“During the meeting, they discussed bilateral relations and ways to enhance them at various levels to achieve the common strategic interests,” the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) said.
“They also exchanged views on a number of current issues in the region and the latest regional and international developments of mutual interest,” QNA said.
The deal with Qatar - the third this year for Dassault AVMD.PA after agreements to sell Rafale jets to Egypt and India - includes MBDA missiles, and the training of 36 Qatari pilots and 100 technicians by the French military.
Hollande said there could be options for further sales of the plane in Qatar. Dassault is also in talks aimed at supplying 16 of the multi-role combat jets to Malaysia and has resumed discussions over potential fighter sales to another Gulf Arab state, the United Arab Emirates.
Highlighting the possibilities in the region, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian flew to Abu Dhabi on Saturday ahead of the Qatar signing ceremony.
Le Drian, seen as the architect of Rafale’s recent successes, met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed for an hour to discuss the jets.
The discussions went well, two diplomatic sources said, with one adding that negotiations were in an “active phase”.
Dassault chief executive Eric Trappier told reporters Kuwait was also evaluating the plane. The Qatar sale was “a good sign for all the countries of the region” because now they would see the capabilities of the aircraft, he said.
“It’s a little bit the snowball effect - except it’s in the desert,” he said.
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