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France Opens its First Military Base in Gulf Region

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has inaugurated France's first military base in the Gulf region at a time of heightened political sensitivities in the volatile Middle East - and as France seeks to expand its presence in the region.

Based in the Emirates state of Abu Dhabi, the French base amounts to France's first new military base overseas in 50 years. It has been dubbed the Camp of Peace, and it is expected to host up to 500 troops on three separate sites.

The base's opening comes amid ongoing international concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions. But as he inaugurated it in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it targeted no country.

Rather, Mr. Sarkozy said, the base marked France's long-term engagement towards its friends, including the United Arab Emirates. If anything were to happen to France's friends in the region, he said, Paris would be on their side.

The French government says the base will help support its troops deployed in the Indian Ocean but also serve to reinforce bilateral military cooperation. But the base also gives France a strategic military presence in the region - alongside the United States and Britain which also have bases in the Gulf.

France also hopes to strike lucrative deals to supply the United Arab Emirates with civilian nuclear technology as well as military aircraft.

While the French base is a first in the Gulf region, France has a sizable military presence in Africa, with bases in West and Central Africa as well as in Djibouti, in East Africa.

France is also a key player in a number of UN and NATO operations, with more than 3,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.