France and Qatar signed a slew of contracts as President Emmanuel Macron visits the isolated Gulf country to solidify French business interests and Qatar continues to firm up its ties with the West.
Among the deals: France’s Dassault Aviation sold a further 12 Rafale fighter jets; the French national railway company SNCF along with Paris metro company RATP won a contract to run the Doha metro; French state-owned armaments company Nexter sold 490 armored vehicles; and Airbus sold 50 narrow body jets.
“These contracts underline the closeness of our commercial ties,” Macron said during a signing ceremony in Doha Thursday. He said the contracts were valued at about 12 billion euros ($14.1 billion).
A Saudi-led embargo of Qatar has ignited a surge in domestic nationalism as Qataris dig in for a long standoff. While shoring up sentiments at home, Qatari officials cemented friendships in the West since June with big-ticket purchases of U.S. military jets, Italian naval ships and now planes from France.
Macron caps the parade of top diplomats from Europe and the U.S. who called in Doha this year. Few left empty-handed. Turkey and Iran gained market share for foods and construction supplies that used to come through Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. government got a new counter-terrorism pact, and Washington lobbyists gorged on fees from both sides seeking to sway a sometimes split Trump administration.
Macron has insisted France won’t take sides in the standoff between Qatar and other Gulf countries, and Thursday he reiterated his support for mediation efforts led by Kuwait. “It is our priority to see a rapid solution,” Macron said.
Macron also said a “discussion” was needed about Iran’s involvement in regional crises, another source of tension between Qatar, which has friendly ties to Iran, and Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as the main source of instability in the Middle East.
Macron pleased his hosts by calling Iran a “great country with a great history that must be respected,” but saying “it is essential to have a dialog on the regional presence of Iran and what limits we should place on it.”
Earlier in the day, Macron visited French soldiers stationed at a U.S. airbase in Qatar and told them that France’s military presence in the region will last because of continued instability.
Thursday’s contracts were signed in Doha in the presence of Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani and Macron.
The SNCF’s contract to run the Doha metro, whose first line opens in about a year, is worth 3 billion euros, Macron’s office said. The option to buy 12 more Dassault Rafale jets is worth about 2 billion euros. Qatar also opened an option to buy 36 more.
Qatar Airways upgraded a 5.5 billion euro contract with Airbus to buy 50 A321 neos with Safran motors, and signed a contract to opt for a further 30. Qatar also signed a letter of intent with Nexter to buy 490 armored vehicles that could be worth about 1.5 billion euros.
Separately, France and Qatar agreed to set up a joint working group to combat the financing of terror groups. “We want to cut off all help and financing to the terror groups that our intelligence services identify,” said Macron, who also offered French help to secure the 2022 soccer World Cup in Qatar.