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"What he did was intimate is that France no longer represents the U.S.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
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
countries as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have sought U.S. defense
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
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.