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UAE agrees to French base by 2009

Nuclear pact also signed during Sarkozy visit

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France and the United Arab Emirates signed deals during a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday for Paris to set up a military base in the UAE and help it develop civilian nuclear energy.

A defense agreement inked during the visit to Abu Dhabi calls for 400 to 500 French army, navy and air force personnel to be stationed at the base, said vice admiral Jacques Mazars, who negotiated the deal for France.

"The base will be permanent. It will be the first such French base in the Gulf and it will face the Strait of Hormuz," the strategic waterway through which much of the world's oil supplies pass, a French presidential source said.

Edouard Guillaud, a military aide of Sarkozy, said the military facility will be established in Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest and largest of the UAE's seven emirates, and become operational in 2009.

Mazars said that as part of the plan, around 150 navy personnel will be stationed at a naval site at Abu Dhabi port.

The deals were signed after Sarkozy arrived in Abu Dhabi from Qatar for a brief visit on the final leg of a Gulf tour that started in Saudi Arabia, his first trip to the Gulf Arab states since taking office in May.

Sarkozy held talks with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

The UAE's WAM news agency said Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and French Defense Minister Herve Morin inked an agreement to boost military relations, but it did not provide details.

The countries are already linked by a 1995 defense pact under which the two countries' armed forces conduct regular joint maneuvers in the UAE, to which France is a leading military supplier.

During a visit to the UAE in November 2001, former French president Jacques Chirac inspected French units stationed at Al-Dhafra airbase in the north of Abu Dhabi.

France has a number of military bases mainly in Africa, including Djibouti, which occupies a strategic position on the Gulf of Aden.

Nuclear pact

The other agreement signed Tuesday by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Emirati counterpart "outlines a cooperation framework for the assessment and possible use of nuclear energy for peaceful ends," WAM said.

Sheikh Abdullah said the accord complements, and does not clash with, a plan by the six Arab monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to develop a joint peaceful nuclear program.

Tuesday's agreement makes the UAE the third Arab country to ink a nuclear cooperation deal with France, after Algeria and Libya. Sarkozy on Monday reiterated an offer to share civilian nuclear technology with the Muslim world.

GCC members Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE decided in December 2006 to develop a joint nuclear technology program for peaceful uses.