The United Arab Emirates agreed to buy 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12 military helicopters from France on Friday in a landmark deal expected to bolster ties between the two allies.
President Emmanuel Macron and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan finalized the 17 billion-euro ($19.2 billion) sale in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
The massive deal – Paris’ largest overseas arms sale to date – took more than a decade to complete. It comes as France is looking to boost its defense industry and build influence in the Middle East.
“This French commitment to the region, this active cooperation in the fight against terrorism, the clear positions we have taken mean that we have increased our proximity to the UAE,” Reuters quoted Macron as saying today.
“At a time when they undoubtedly asked themselves more questions about other historical partners ... I think that this strengthens France's position,” he said, likely in reference to the United States, which is still in negotiations with the UAE over the F-35.
The French president told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Friday that the deal is “important for our economy because the planes are manufactured in France.”
The sale comes after France’s defense industry took a hit after the US convinced Australia’s government not to go through with a $66 billion agreement for 12 French submarines.
France is one of the UAE’s primary defense suppliers. Paris maintains a naval base in the Emirates, which first bought French-made Mirage 2000 planes in the early 1980s.
Friday’s deal includes 80 of the upgraded F4 models of the Dassault-made Rafale warplane, according to the manufacturer. It also includes 12 Caracal military transport helicopters to be produced by Airbus near Marseille.
Defense Minister Florence Parly praised the deal as supporting stability in the Middle East and said it would support hundreds of jobs in France.
Macron is on a two-day tour of the Gulf region as his government is involved in multinational talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
His visit comes after the Abu Dhabi crown prince visited Paris in September in a bid to boost cooperation between the two allies. The two leaders have bolstered economic and cultural ties in recent years .
Macron will “continue to push and support the efforts that contribute to the stability of the region, from the Mediterranean to the Gulf,” a French presidency official was quoted by the Associated Press as saying ahead of the trip.