Sarkozy to tour Gulf states after nuclear offer


On his first trip to the region since taking office in May, he will visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), three states interested in developing a civilian nuclear programme despite their oil and gas wealth.

Sarkozy will land in Saudi Arabia as US President George W. Bush tours the region to rally support for his policy of isolating Iran over its controversial nuclear activities.

During a brief stop in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, France and the UAE are to sign a framework accord for cooperation in developing civilian nuclear energy, said a source close to talks between the two governments who asked not to be named.

This would make the UAE the third Arab country to ink such a deal with France, after Algeria and Libya.

"The sharing of civilian nuclear (technology) will be one of the foundations of a pact of confidence which the West must forge with the Islamic world," Sarkozy said after signing the agreement with Algeria last month.

Amid concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and growing regional clout, the six Arab monarchies of the Gulf decided in December 2006 to develop a joint nuclear technology programme for peaceful uses.

The UAE’s energy undersecretary, Ali bin Abdullah al-Owais, has said the Gulf states aim to have a joint nuclear reactor by 2025.

But in parallel with the joint plan, "each country can do whatever they wish" and pursue its own nuclear activities as a means to ensure the future of its industries, another Emirati official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"I don’t think there is any contradiction."

The UAE, which on the back of its oil wealth is engaged in a frenetic process of economic development, including in industry, has growing energy requirements.

"The demand for power in the region is the highest in the world. We need a huge supply of energy as our growth continues," Owais sai

Although the UAE will be the only country on Sarkozy’s tour to sign a nuclear-related deal, nuclear energy cooperation is also likely to come up during his talks in Riyadh and Doha, where the idea is at an earlier stage.

Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive of French nuclear power group Areva, will be in the delegation accompanying Sarkozy.

In Qatar, which sits on the world’s third-largest gas reserves after Russia and Iran, a subsidiary of the Areva group is expected on Monday to sign a major contract on the supply of electrical materials.


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