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UAE President's France trip to boost ties, focus on energy

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United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan landed in Paris Sunday, on his first overseas state visit and with energy and transport deals on the agenda.

He is due to meet his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Monday at the Elysee Palace.

The UAE president's visit comes after Joe Biden's first Middle East tour as president, including a visit to Saudi Arabia at a time when Western powers remain desperate for both Riyadh and the UAE to increase oil output to tame elevated energy prices stemming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

A key facet of the trip is likely to be the unveiling of “guarantees given by the UAE on quantities of hydrocarbon supplies to France”, a presidential advisor at the Elysee told AFP, referring to diesel supplies.

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Dominated by hydrocarbons, UAE exports to France in 2019 reached 1.5 billion euros, much of it refined petroleum products, but the Emirates does not currently supply diesel to the country.

France is seeking “to diversify its sources of supply in the context of the conflict in Ukraine,” the Elysee source added.

MOUs and contracts are also expected to be signed in the transport and waste treatment sectors during the three-day visit.

Relations between the two countries have grown considerably in recent years. The UAE is home to the only foreign branch of the Louvre museum, and in December it signed a record 14-billion-euro contract for 80 Rafale warplanes.

The UAE is home to the largest French and Francophone expatriate community in the Gulf region.

The UAE's de facto ruler for years, Sheikh Mohamed, also known as MBZ, took office in May following the death of his half-brother, the long-ailing Sheikh Khalifa.

The visit to France “has of course a very symbolic dimension and illustrates... Macron and MBZ's good personal relations,” said Anne Gadel, a member of the North Africa Middle East Observatory at the Fondation Jean Jaures in Paris.

“This trip will be marked by energy issues in a context where European countries are worried about growing inflation driven by high energy prices”, she added.

Both European powers and the US have sought to press Gulf countries into upping oil output.

In opting for France -- rather than the US -- as his first foreign destination as president, the UAE's Sheikh Mohamed could be sending “a signal... to the US... meaning: we are not in a hurry to respond to the US' demands at all costs,” Gadel said.

The UAE has been a strategic partner to Washington for decades, but has in recent months asserted its independence, abstaining from a February UN Security Council vote on a US-Albanian draft resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

On Saturday, Biden invited his Emirati counterpart to visit the US.

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