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Sun 22 Feb 2009 08:47 PM

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France says Iran must allay Gulf fears

France urges Iran to take part in dialogue with Gulf Arab states to ally fears over nuclear programme.

France, set to open a military base in the United Arab Emirates this year, said on Sunday that Iran should take part in a dialogue with Gulf Arab countries to ally their fears over its nuclear programme.

France is among world powers trying to exert pressure on Iran to halt its atomic work, which has played into Gulf countries' fears over the non-Arab power's rising influence.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin said France wanted to play a pivotal role in the region, adding its planned UAE military base would become operational in May.

"France insists that Iran plays the transparency card, cooperates internationally to make its nuclear energy programme clear," Morin told a news conference on the sidelines of a defence industry exhibition in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi.

"France must have constructive dialogue that allows elimination of major concerns in the region. The will of France is to have this dialogue with Iran and that all countries play their part in this constructive format," Morin said.

Gulf Arabs fear Iran's nuclear energy programme will allow it to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies any such interest.

France, the UAE and Qatar held military exercises last year where they worked together to repel a simulated attack from a nearby state. France's military base lies across the narrow Gulf waterway, a key oil shipping route, from Iran.

The French base will eventually house some 400 to 500 personnel from the army, navy and air force.

Morin said France is in talks with the UAE, Kuwait and Oman over sales of its Rafale fighter jet. (Reuters)

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