190206 Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron will be visiting the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar during this trip. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: France will sign several major deals with the UAE on Friday, with two sources saying Paris could finally seal a multi-billion dollar Rafale warplane sale, as it looks to deepen economic and political ties with Abu Dhabi.

French President Emmanuel Macron begins the two-day trip to the Gulf today (December 3), and will also visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia. His visit comes at a time when Gulf Arab states have voiced uncertainty about the US' focus on the region even as they seek more weapons from their key security ally.

The French leader has forged a good relationship with His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces with investments flowing between both countries. The sources said Abu Dhabi could buy about 60 fighter jets, although they cautioned the deal was not finalised. This would be the biggest bulk purchase of the Dassault-made Rafale, other than by the French army, and comes after deals in Greece, Egypt and Croatia this year.

"I don't want to spoil the Christmas present with the President," Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, told reporters ahead of the visit when asked whether Abu Dhabi would purchase the fighter jets. (The French presidency declined to confirm or deny the sale and Dassault could not immediately be reached for comment.)

Deal signings

Macron will attend a signing ceremony with His Highness Sheikh Mohamed on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo 2020 later on Friday, the presidency said on Thursday in a handout of the French leader's schedule. The on-off negotiations for the Rafale fighter jets have been going on for more than a decade with Abu Dhabi publicly rebuffing France's offer to supply 60 Rafale jets in 2011 as "uncompetitive and unworkable". Abu Dhabi already has Mirage warplanes.

French weekly business magazine Challenges reported on November 19 that talks were at an advanced stage for between 30-60 planes and could be sealed during Macron's visit. Neighbouring Qatar has already ordered Rafales.

"This is an excellent relationship and various agreements will be signed. After the President's visit the relationship will be broader in different areas," Gargash said.