French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrapped up a visit to three Gulf countries Tuesday that cinched key military and energy agreements for France - including plans to develop civilian nuclear power in the region. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.
President Sarkozy offered the three Gulf countries he visited, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, French expertise and cooperation to develop nuclear power production in a region rich with oil.
In his first stop, Saudi Arabia, Mr. Sarkozy offered the kingdom technological help in doing so. The French power company, EDF, signed a nuclear cooperation memorandum with Qatar.
In Abu Dhabi Tuesday, President Sarkozy signed a framework nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates. If realized, agreements with all three countries would help develop civilian nuclear energy for peaceful ends in a region where power demands are soaring. They could also translate into billions of dollars in contracts for French companies.
Anne Lauvergeon, head of France's Areva energy company, hailed the Emirates deal. Only two other Arab countries, Algeria and Libya, have signed similar nuclear cooperation agreements with France.
Lauvergeon told reporters that the nuclear cooperation agreement with the Emirates was a big step. Previously, she said, the Gulf's oil producing nations saw western-produced nuclear power mostly as a rival and counterweight to the steep price of gasoline.
France and the Emirates also signed a defense agreement which media reports say will grant the French military a permanent base in the Gulf.
Mr. Sarkozy's visit to the region coincides with that of President George W. Bush, who is trying to drum up Arab support for a tough stance against Iran's nuclear program.
The United States and a number of western nations accuse Tehran of trying to build a nuclear weapon, but Iran insists its nuclear program is purely for peaceful, civilian ends.