DOHA: Qatar’s ruling emir and French President Emmanuel Macron signed $ 12 billion in deals during the French president’s visit to Doha on Thursday, including the purchase of 12 French-made Dassault Rafale fighter jets with the option of buying 36 more.
Qatar exercised its existing right to purchase 12 more, bringing the total number of Rafales the Gulf Arab country will have to 36.
Macron is traveling with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in 2015 as defense minister helped negotiate a deal with Qatar to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets.
Macron’s one-day trip to the small Gulf nation comes as it faces continued isolation and a boycott by some of its Arab neighbors.
In a rare press conference, Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, expressed his regret for the boycott.
Earlier this week, a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Kuwait failed to bring the standoff any closer to a resolution. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut relations with Qatar over allegations it supports extremists and has too-close relations with Iran.
Qatar denies supporting extremists and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.
Meanwhile, France and Qatar also agreed Thursday on a deal for Qatar to purchase 490 VBCI armored vehicles from French firm Nexter, and a transportation deal with France’s national rail authority to manage and maintain Doha’s planned metro, as well as a light rail system north of Doha. Qatar announced it would additionally buy 50 Airbus twin-engine A321s with option of buying 30 more.
During his visit to Qatar, Macron traveled to the vast Al-Udeid air base, which is crucial to the ongoing fight against the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria and to the war in Afghanistan.
The air base is home to some 10,000 American troops and the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command. France also has a contingent of several hundred French troops in Qatar as part of the 1,200 French forces active in the region as part of the US-led international coalition against extremists.
Macron smiled and shook hands with the French and American soldiers who greeted him at the base before walking into a meeting with the base’s top commanders.
Speaking to coalition soldiers, he said the next few months of battle will determine the outcome of the war against Daesh in Iraq in Syria.
“This military win does not signify the end of the operations and the end of our battle because first we need to stabilize and win peace in Iraq and Syria,” he told troops. “Next spring is decisive in the situation in Iraq.”
Macron also stressed in his remarks at the air base that France wants to avoid partition in Syria and “avoid the domination of certain international elements whose interests contradict peace.”