France’s Hollande in Qatar for warplane deal

Hollande meets Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani before flying to Saudi Arabia to attend a key GCC summit

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Qatar signed a multi-billion-euro deal with French defense group Dassault on Monday to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets, in a ceremony attended by the leaders of both countries in Doha.

The contract was signed by Dassault CEO Eric Trappier and Qatari General Ahmed al-Malki, who oversaw negotiations for the 6.3-billion-euro ($7-billion) contract.

French President Francois Hollande told Malki during the ceremony that Qatar had made a "good choice" in purchasing the warplanes, an AFP correspondent said.

Hollande was set to meet Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani before flying to Saudi Arabia to attend a key Gulf Cooperation Council summit there on Tuesday -- a first for a Western head of state.

Hollande is set to discuss with Sheikh Tamim the several crises rocking the region, including the weeks-long Saudi-led coalition aerial campaign on anti-government rebels in Yemen.

Hollande heads to Riyadh later Monday to hold talks with Saudi King Salman.

In addition to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.

Having struggled for years to sell any of its Rafale jets abroad, Dassault has recently scored several lucrative, high-profile contracts with Egypt, India, and now Qatar.

A separate agreement will see France train 36 Qatari pilots and around 100 mechanical engineers, as well as intelligence officers. Rafale jets can be used for reconnaissance missions.

France may soon be celebrating another fighter jet deal as negotiations with the UAE appear to be headed in the "right direction", according Fabius.

Le Drian, whose several previous trips to the Middle East have mostly been confidential, met Sunday with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and UAE deputy armed forces chief Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

The pair discussed "mutual cooperation in military defense" including possible training deals, according to the official WAM news agency.