French President Francois Hollande, seen above Jan. 8 at the Elysee Palace in Paris, will head to the United Arab Emirates to push the Gulf state to buy Rafale fighter jets, a source said. (Philippe Wojazer / AFP pool)
PARIS — French President Francois Hollande will head to the United Arab Emirates next week, where he will push the Gulf state to buy Rafale fighter jets, a French diplomatic source said Jan. 9.
France is keen to make its first foreign sale of the Rafale, which has struggled to find buyers to support a project that has cost tens of billions of euros. The source said no contract would be signed during Hollande’s visit Jan. 15 but that the potential sale was being discussed.
“The file is still on the table, it is obviously of great interest for French industry, it is being followed closely. It has chances of succeeding,” the source said. “I don’t know if we should be optimistic or pessimistic. At one point we did have hopes that were disappointed.”
After years of negotiating a purchase from the French aerospace firm Dassault, the UAE in late 2011 asked for a counter-offer from the Eurofighter consortium — made up of Britain’s BAE Systems, Italy’s Finmeccanica and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).
France is hoping the UAE will buy about 60 fighters in a boost to the struggling Rafale program. Qatar and Kuwait have indicated they are interested in Rafales but are waiting to see if the UAE will buy them first.
Dassault, whose new chief executive, Eric Trappier, took office Jan. 9, is in talks to finalize the sale of 126 Rafale fighters to India and has also made an offer to Brazil, which needs 36 planes.