Having announced in January that France would establish a permanent military base in Abu Dhabi, across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, "contained within a UAE facility and [which] will eventually house up to 400 personnel from the navy, army, and air force," France is now deploying "1,500 personnel, two frigates, and eight Mirage fighter jets" to defense exercises being held in conjunction with the United Arab Emirates (UAE; Abu Dhabi is one of the seven states comprising this federation) and Qatar, the Financial Times (London) reported Saturday.[1]  --  The French move into the Persian Gulf, viewed askance by Iran and justified by France "as a depot to support French maritime surveillance operations in the Gulf, allowing ships to spend more time in the region," is thought to herald a more general "re-organization of France's overseas military deployments," Ben Hall and Simeon Kerr said.  --  A broader analysis posted on the World Socialist Web Site published in January set this development in a broader context.[2]  --  France has more than 12,000 French troops deployed abroad.  --  More than half are deployed in Africa — 2,800 in Djibouti, 2,600 in the Ivory Coast, and 1,200 in Chad, with smaller contingents in Senegal, Gabon, and the Central African Republic.  --  France also has 1,900 troops in Afghanistan, 2,000 troops in Kosovo, and 1,700 troops in Lebanon.  --  Qatar has enormous oil and natural gas reserves, and Kumaran Ira saw what President Sarkozy has called a "strategic rupture" as part of a French interest in reaching "greater influence within Europe and in reducing the influence of Russia — Europe’s main source of natural gas — and Germany, which has played a key role in negotiating pipeline deals with Russia."  --  A speculative analysis by Asia Times Online columnist opined that so in flux is the strategic situation in the Persian Gulf that it has "almost reached the point of Tehran considering the option of reciprocating the perceived excess Western intrusion into its vicinity by allowing a military base for China at one of Iran's Persian Gulf ports or on one of its islands."[3]  --  "[G]rowing Iran-China cooperation on the energy and trade fronts is bound sooner or later to spill over into more meaningful military cooperation," said Kaveh Afrasiabi, who called France's move into the Persian Gulf "bold" and "unsettling to Tehran." ...

1.

World

IRAN BRISTLES AS FRENCH FORCES HEAD FOR WAR GAMES IN THE GULF
By Ben Hall (Paris) and Simeon Kerr (Dubai)

Financial Times (London)
February 23, 2008

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/77c38c2c-e1a1-11dc-a302-0000779fd2ac.html

French armed forces will take part in large-scale war games in the Gulf next week, underlining France's growing military presence in the region amid heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

France will deploy 1,500 personnel, two frigates, and eight Mirage fighter jets to the defense exercises, held in conjunction with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Paris has long-standing defense co-operation agreements with the two countries and is one of their biggest suppliers of arms. But its involvement in the joint maneuvers -- codenamed Gulf Shield -- follows President Nicolas Sarkozy's announcement last month of a permanent French base in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital.

The base will give France its first permanent foothold in the Gulf, across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, and will send a signal to Tehran that Paris is determined to protect its strategic interests in the region.

Iran criticized Mr. Sarkozy's announcement as an "unfriendly" move.

"We believe such a presence is not conducive to peace and security in the region," Mohammad Ali Hosseini, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, said at the time. The French president has adopted a tougher stance than that of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, against Iran's nuclear activities and is seeking stronger international sanctions against Tehran.

A UAE official said there was nothing new in French military exercises in the Gulf, but the exercises come at a time of diplomatic maneuvering.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the UAE's prime minister and ruler of Dubai, undertook some rare shuttle diplomacy this week, with visits to both Iran and it ally, Syria.

The French base will be contained within a UAE facility and will eventually house up to 400 personnel from the navy, army, and air force. It is intended as a depot to support French maritime surveillance operations in the Gulf, allowing ships to spend more time in the region. A UAE official said it could develop into a more comprehensive base over time.

Mr. Sarkozy described the new facility as a "strategic rupture" because, for the first time, France would establish a permanent base outside its former African colonies. The U.S. is the only other foreign power with a permanent base in the Gulf, in Bahrain.

The UAE installation could herald a much broader re-organization of France's overseas military deployments under a defense white paper expected in mid-April.

A senior French diplomat told the *Financial Times* recently that France was considering whether to close its base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, because it was too expensive.

However, Christophe Prazuck, the spokesman for the French chiefs of staff, said the Abu Dhabi facility was "not at the same level" as the Djibouti base, where nearly 3,000 French personnel are stationed. "This does not substitute our strategic interests in Africa," he said.

A foreign ministry official said: "This doesn't spell the end for Djibouti, but it spells the end for Djibouti as the only location of military support."

Officials in Paris said that setting up a French base -- opened at the request of the UAE under a 1995 defense accord -- and conducting joint exercises in the Gulf were not designed to send a warning signal to Iran. "However, if they feel under pressure, we would not want to disabuse them," said an official.

François Heisbourg, an adviser to the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said the planned base was a reminder to powers in the region that France fought alongside the U.S. and the U.K. in the first Gulf War in 1990-91 in defense of its strategic interests.

2.

News & analysis

Europe

France

FRANCE OBTAINS ENERGY DEALS, ESTABLISHES FIRST MILITARY BASE IN PERSIAN GULF
By Kumaran Ira

World Socialist Web Site
January 24, 2008

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/jan2008/sark-j24.shtml

On January 13-15, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accompanied by ministers and top business leaders, made a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and then the United Arab Emirates aimed at securing billions of dollars worth of contracts for French firms and signing military basing deals in the Gulf region.

Sarkozy visited Saudi Arabia on the first day of his trip. In an interview with the pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily published on January 13, Sarkozy said his visit was aimed at giving “a new dimension to our strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia,” adding that French firms “can meet the aspirations of Saudi Arabia in all sectors, namely energy, transport . . . or water distribution.” He also expressed support for tough international action on the U.N. Security Council and within the E.U. to force Iran to suspend its nuclear activities.

Sarkozy is seeking to increase French trade with Saudi Arabia, which -- at 3.9 percent of Saudi Arabia’s foreign trade -- lags behind the U.S., China, Germany, Japan, Britain, and Italy.

Sarkozy and Saudi King Abdullah signed four agreements on oil and gas cooperation, political dialogue between two foreign ministries, hosting Saudi students, and researchers in France and the development of vocational training and technical education. Meanwhile, a package of contracts related to defense, air and rail transport, power and water plants worth some 40 billion euros ($59 billion) was also reviewed, though none of the contracts have been finalized.

At the end of the meeting with Saudi and French businessmen on January 14, Sarkozy assured that in the coming weeks French firms would review these contracts. He also proposed to send a team in the coming weeks from the Atomic Energy Commission “to look into building a civilian nuclear energy program there,” including a possible transfer of technology.

On January 14, Sarkozy visited Qatar, which has the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world after Russia and Iran, where he signed electricity and nuclear power deals. A series of other accords potentially worth 6.3 billion euros were also discussed.

Gaz de France (GDF) and Qatar Petroleum International (QPI) signed a partnership agreement which provides the development of cooperation between the two groups at an international level in exploration, production, liquefied natural gas (LNG), gas storage, and downstream activities. The agreement shows that GDF is keen to strengthen its presence in Qatar and develop its cooperation with the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The forthcoming merger between GDF and Suez will create the largest importer and buyer of LNG in Europe.

Jean-François Cirelli, chairman and CEO of GDF, commented, “I am delighted we have signed this agreement which represents a major step forward in the development of our relations with Qatar and the establishment of a long-term partnership with Qatar Petroleum.” He added, “As a major player in the energy sector in Europe, active throughout the liquefied natural gas chain, GDF would like to become a significant partner of QPI and work on the development of joint long-term projects.”

The transmission and distribution division of Areva, the French nuclear firm, signed a contract worth 500 million euros with Kahramaa, the Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation, according to an Areva press release on January 14. At the same time, Electricité de France (EDF), the French power firm, also signed a memorandum with Qatar to discuss cooperation in the production of nuclear power and renewable energies (solar and wind).

At the end of his three-day trip to the Gulf, Sarkozy visited Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where he signed a cooperation agreement to develop nuclear power in the UAE.

During his visit, corporations Total, GDF, and Areva signed a partnership agreement to submit a nuclear power plant project, worth as much as 4 billion euros, to the UAE. They intend to submit a proposal for an integrated nuclear power generation solution comprising two 1600 MW nuclear reactors (third generation) and fuel cycle products and services. This would be France’s third deal to provide nuclear technology for Arab nations, after deals with Algeria and Libya.

In an interview with Al Jazeera on January 14 in Qatar, Sarkozy said, “Arab countries have the right to develop nuclear energy.” However, he said that right should not be extended to Iran until the government in Tehran has proved definitively that it does not intend to acquire nuclear weapons.

Despite a recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in November last year, which stated that Iran had ended any nuclear weapons programs in 2003, Sarkozy lined up behind the Bush administration’s claim that Iran represented a nuclear menace that had to be countered by tougher sanctions and the possible use of military force.

The last major announcement was the agreement reached between France and UAE for France to establish its first-ever permanent military base in the Gulf, in Abu Dhabi. According to Al Jazeera, the military accord makes France one of the first Western states other than the U.S to have a permanent base in the Gulf region.

The base, a mere 150 miles from the coast of Iran, will host approximately 400 to 500 troops from all branches of the French armed forces. These forces are expected to come from an existing base in Djibouti, in East Africa. The Abu Dhabi base is set to become operational in 2009. The new French military outpost will be near the vital Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s oil supply passes.

This deployment is a marked departure from the typical profile of French intervention abroad. Of the over 12,000 French troops deployed around the world, over half are deployed in Africa -- 2,800 in Djibouti, 2,600 in the Ivory Coast, and 1,200 in Chad, with smaller forces in Senegal, Gabon, and the Central African Republic. It has 1,900 troops in Afghanistan, 2,000 troops in Kosovo, and 1,700 troops in Lebanon.

The establishment of the Persian Gulf base is thus an important strategic shift in the foreign policy of the French bourgeoisie. It also allows French imperialism to bid for greater influence within Europe and in reducing the influence of Russia -- Europe’s main source of natural gas -- and Germany, which has played a key role in negotiating pipeline deals with Russia.

The increased power of the French bourgeoisie in international energy markets will be used not to benefit French consumers, who face a 4 percent rate hike at the beginning of 2008. Indeed, Sarkozy was at pains to underline to the assembled businessmen and royalty that his government would move further to reduce the living standards of the French working masses.

In Abu Dhabi, on January 15, he congratulated himself on building support for a recent labor law reform gutting job security and increasing the use of temporary workers. Sarkozy applauded the announcement of “an agreement between employers’ organizations and trade unions on new labor laws.”

“Finally, France is getting down to dialog. Finally, we can understand each other,” he said.

3.

Middle East

A CHINA BASE IN IRAN?
By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Asia Times Online
January 29, 2008

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JA29Ak03.html

In the aftermath of President George W. Bush's recent tour of the Persian Gulf, coinciding with a similar trip by France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, culminating in a deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a small French base, Iran's security calculus has changed. It has almost reached the point of Tehran considering the option of reciprocating the perceived excess Western intrusion into its vicinity by allowing a military base for China at one of Iran's Persian Gulf ports or on one of its islands.

Without doubt, this would be a significant geopolitical move on both Iran's and China's part, bound to unsettle the U.S. superpower that enjoys unrivalled hegemony in the oil region and which has unsettled China with its recent civilian nuclear agreement with India, widely interpreted as a long-term "containing China" initiative.

In the tight interplay of geopolitics and geo-economics, with China heavily dependent on energy imports from Iran and other Persian Gulf states, the trend is definitely toward China's naval complement of its flurry of energy deals in order to secure its precious oil and (liquefied) gas cargo ships exiting through the narrow corridors of the Strait of Hormuz.

Presently, China's strategy is confined to the port city of Gwadar along the southwestern coast of Pakistan in Balochistan province, strategically located near the Hormuz Strait. Yet, due to the close U.S.-Pakistan relations, it is highly improbable the U.S. would permit Islamabad to enter into strategic relations with Beijing so that China, still lacking a formidable navy, could utilize it for power projection in the region.

Not so with Iran, which is constantly threatened by the U.S., and now France, and which already enjoys observer status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), headed by China and Russia. Iran's bid to join the SCO has been stalled partly as a result of the standoff over its nuclear program, but will likely succeed in the not too distant future should the present patterns of Iran-Russia and Iran-China cooperation continue.

Regarding the latter, China has already surpassed Germany as Iran's number one trade partner. Sinopec, China's largest oil refiner, has just finalized a multi-billion dollar deal to develop the giant Yadavaran oil field, and this is in addition to the "deal of the century" contract for natural gas from Iran's immense North Pars field. Chinese contractors are also busy constructing oil terminals for Iran in the Caspian Sea, extending the Tehran metro, building airports, among other projects. And this while China arms sales to Iran have included such hot items as ballistic-missile technology and air-defense radars.

The growing Iran-China cooperation on the energy and trade fronts is bound sooner or later to spill over into more meaningful military cooperation and, in turn, this depends to some extent on the ebbs and flows of Iran-U.S. and China-U.S. "games of strategy," particularly if China feels additional pressure from the U.S. on the geopolitical front.

For sure, Iran's willingness to show a greater willingness than hitherto to embrace China's naval vessels making port calls to Iran is now in the cards, this as a prelude to more extensive agreements up to and including provisions for a small Chinese naval outpost on one of Iran's Persian Gulf islands.

Again, such a scenario, sure to raise the serious ire of Washington, depends on a number of intervening variables. These include future U.S. moves in the Persian Gulf, for example, whether or not the U.S. military will end up utilizing some of the man-made artificial islands set up by the UAE. If so, thus enhancing the U.S.'s power projection capability with regard to Iran, Tehran may be more inclined to try to offset the U.S.'s leaning so heavy on it by playing the "China card."

To reiterate, France's bold new move in the Persian Gulf is equally unsettling to Tehran, which finds the new pro-U.S. turn of French foreign policy detrimental to its national interests. The net result is the cognitive bifurcation of "West" versus "us" [1] that nicely dovetails with the new "eastern orientation" of Iran under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is part and parcel of an energetic new "globalist" approach that includes new strategic openings with certain Latin and Central American nations.

In other words, it is sheer error to misinterpret Iran's "new foreign policy" as one-dimensionally regional or continental in nature, despite its narrow focus on Iran's immediate regions.

"Iran cannot remain indifferent to the aggressive geopolitical maneuvers against it by Western nations [who are] targeting Iran in no unmistakable language," says a prominent political science professor at Tehran University.

The professor loudly wondered how France would react if all of a sudden Iran started setting up bases near its coastline or, for that matter, how Washington would respond to an Iranian base in Iran-friendly Nicaragua? "They definitely need a wake-up call that national security is not a one-way process."

While Iran's political pundits are not yet willing to concede that Iran is now at the stage to allow a Chinese base along its vast Persian Gulf coastline, nonetheless quite a few agree that with the changing geopolitical milieu representing potentially serious national security threats to Iran, all options must remain open.

NOTE

1. After all, Sarkozy has stepped down from his predecessor's talk of "multipolarism" and, instead, per an article in this week's New York Times, "has tempered that notion with talk about France's place within its 'Western family,' an expression welcomed in Washington".

--Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Ph.D., is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's Nuclear Potential Latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.