Qatar, France sign plane, transport deals worth RM58b

PARIS • 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 SA 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 armoured 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 yester- day. He said the contracts were valued at about €12 billion (RM60 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 US military jets, Italian naval ships and now planes from France.

Macron caps the parade of top diplomats from Europe and the US 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 US 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 yesterday 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.

The SNCF’s contract to run the Doha metro, whose first line opens in about a year, is worth €3 billion, Macron’s office said. The option to buy 12 more Dassault Rafale jets is worth about €2 billion. Qatar also opened an option to buy 36 more.

Qatar Airways upgraded a €5.5 billion 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 armoured vehicles that could be worth about €1.5 billion.

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. — Bloomberg