ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — France's president opened talks with top leaders in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday in hopes of pushing ahead efforts to sell up to 60 Rafale fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates and strengthen French ties in Gulf energy and defense industries.
The meetings by Francois Hollande, which include the UAE's president and head of the armed forces, also could test Gulf Arab support for France's attempts to weaken Islamist insurgents in Mali, including airstrikes launched last week.
The Gulf states have taken a higher military and political profile in the region following the Arab Spring uprising, including crackdowns on Islamist-inspired groups by the Western-backed Gulf leaders. Qatar and the UAE joined the NATO-led military campaign to topple Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, and the Gulf states have been leading the call to supply Syrian rebels with more powerful weapons.
Visiting a French naval base in Abu Dhabi, Hollande said there are 750 French troops in the Mali offensive and "the number will increase," according to French media.
Later, he opened a Future Energy Summit, which brought together policymakers and experts in green technology, by warning the world is headed for an environmental "catastrophe" unless leaders begin serious work on renewable energy and other eco-friendly initiatives.
Hollande urged for more investments in renewable energy and efforts to renovate older cities for greater energy efficiency. He added that he hoped Paris could host an international climate conference in 2015.
Hollande is hoping for a breakthrough in the stalled talks over the fighter jet sale by France's Dassault Aviation. The company has been in negotiations with the UAE for years in efforts to sell the Rafale, which is currently used only by France. The UAE is a major customer for U.S. warplanes and military equipment.
In late 2011, a senior UAE defense official cast doubts on the possible Rafale sale by claiming the Dassault was seeking "uncompetitive and unworkable commercial terms."