Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron. (Photo credit: La Chaîne Info)
French President Emmanuel Macron embarked last week on a two-day tour of the Persian Gulf during which he secured major arms deals with both the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
During his first stop in Abu Dhabi, Macron secured the largest ever French weapons contract for export with an $18 billion deal to sell 80 upgraded Rafale F4 warplanes and 12 Airbus-built Caracal helicopters to the UAE.
The French President also made a deal for a further 10 billion Euros in Emirati investments in France.
Following a quick stop in Qatar, Macron then headed to Saudi Arabia for a face-to-face meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), becoming the first major western leader to visit the kingdom since the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
But despite his claims that meeting with MbS was necessary to “work for stability in the region,” his meeting with the crown prince also served to secure a contract to sell 26 military helicopters to the kingdom, an $8.5 billion contract to maintain Saudi aircraft, and a $200 million contract to build aircraft structures in the country.
On top of this, Macron’s visit ended with five agreements signed between state-owned Saudi oil company Aramco and French companies.
The multi-billion arms deals will reportedly offer a shot in the arm for France’s defense industry after the collapse of a $66 billion contract with Australia to buy 12 French submarines that ultimately went to the US, following the signing of the AUKUS pact between Washington, the UK and Australia.
According to French officials, Macron’s meeting with MbS was part of his “long-term strategy” to contribute to “stability” in West Asia. The officials added that France was presenting itself “as a balancing power in reinforcing dialogue between countries from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.”
However, despite platitudes used by French officials to justify arming the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Iran stepped in to condemn the French president’s actions.
“We must not ignore France’s role in destabilizing the region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference on 6 December, also saying that Tehran “expected France to be more responsible.”
“The militarization of our region is unacceptable and the weapons they sell in the region are the source of turmoil,” Khatibzadeh said.
Macron’s two-day visit to the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia comes a month before France assumes the rotating European Union presidency – and just ahead of the French 2022 presidential election where Macron is expected to seek a second term.