French President Francois Hollande sought to boost ties in the Gulf Monday as he oversaw the signing of a warplanes deal with Qatar and headed to Saudi Arabia for a summit.
Hollande was to be the first Western head of state to attend a (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) annual gathering when it meets in Riyadh on Tuesday.
The summit comes at a time a Saudi-US-led coalition aggression on Yemen.
With Hollande in attendance, the CEO of French aerospace firm Dassault, Eric Trappier, signed the 6.3-billion-euro ($7-billion) deal with Qatari defense officials in Doha.
The agreement includes an order for 24 Rafale fighter jets, with an option on a further 12. “Good choice,” Hollande said as the deal was signed. “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.”
Having struggled for years to sell any Rafales abroad, Dassault has recently scored several high-profile contracts with Egypt, India, and now Qatar.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said recently that talks with the United Arab Emirates on buying Rafales were also headed in the “right direction”.
At the signing ceremony, Hollande hailed France’s ties with Gulf countries and his invitation to the GCC summit. “It is an honor for France, a sign of friendship and of confidence,” he said.
Hollande was to meet Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani before flying to Saudi Arabia for the GCC summit and separate talks with Saudi King Salman.