Rumsfeld urges Gulf states not to buy French weapons

France no longer a positive force in the region

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

The United States has quietly relayed its opposition to any major Gulf Arab purchase of French military equipment.

Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured GCC states and officials said he discussed France's opposition to the war in Iraq and its help to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. They said Rumsfeld suggested that French defense sales might not be in the best interests of Gulf Arab states.

"He didn't tell anybody not to buy French weapons," an official said. "What he did was intimate is that France no longer represents the U.S. interest for stability in the Gulf region. I think the rest was very much understood."

The U.S. lobbying effort comes as France has launched a campaign to expand its market in the Gulf, Middle East Newsline reported. Over the last decade, France has seen its leading position as an arms supplier overtaken by the United States because such countries as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have sought U.S. defense contractors.

Officials and industry sources said the Defense Department has expressed opposition to any major French weapons or upgrade project in Gulf Cooperation Council states. They said Rumsfeld has warned that France, in wake of its alliance with the deposed regime, can no longer be regarded as a positive force in the Persian Gulf region.

Officials said the Pentagon effort was meant to torpedo France's drive to sell up to 110 Rafale fighter-jets to Saudi Arabia. They said Riyad, amid rising tensions with the United States in 2002, was considering a French offer to sell the Rafale as well as the Leclerc tanks to the kingdom.

France might also lose its hold on the Qatari military market, officials said. France already supplies the emirate with 80 percent of its military needs and has been discussing new arms sales.

"It will be difficult for France to make another major sale in Qatar unless Washington agrees," a U.S. industry source said. "Qatar has already told Washington that it will consider a change in suppliers."

Industry sources said the Pentagon also seeks to stop the export of U.S. components for French weapons as well as partnerships between U.S. and French defense contractors. They warned that such a move could also hurt British defense companies, which have formed joint ventures with French arms manufacturers.

Already, the Pentagon said it would not send senior defense officials or U.S. fighter-jets to the Le Bourget air show in June. The move is expected to reduce the presence of U.S. contractors at the biannual exhibition.

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