UAE to host European-led mission to monitor Gulf waters

Abu Dhabi (AFP) –


A European-led maritime mission to monitor Gulf waters will be stationed at the French naval base in Abu Dhabi, the French defence minister said Sunday, amid regional tensions with Iran.

Since May, tensions in the Gulf have escalated following a string of attacks on oil tankers that the United States and its allies blamed on Tehran. The Islamic republic denies the charges.

Iran, however, admitted to shooting down a US drone in June for allegedly flying over its territorial waters. Washington insisted the aircraft was in international airspace.

"We formally agreed that the command centre of the European maritime surveillance initiative will be on UAE territory," French Defence Minister Florence Parly told AFP.

It will be run by around 10 to 15 staff members deployed at the French naval base in Abu Dhabi who will "contribute to making maritime navigation in the Gulf as safe as possible", she said on a visit to the base.

Parly did not identify the countries that would be joining the mission, saying that some were still waiting for their respective parliaments to ratify their participation in the initiative.

Earlier this month, Washington launched a maritime coalition based in Bahrain to provide protection to shipping in the troubled Gulf waters and the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Most European governments have declined to take part in the US-led coalition, fearful of undermining their efforts to save a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran -- which was badly weakened by Washington's withdrawal last year.

But on Sunday Parly said France "will coordinate with the Americans".

This comes a day after she took aim at "gradual US disengagement" in the Middle East.

At the annual Manama Dialogue on regional security on Saturday, the French minister also criticised Washington for its failure to respond to provocations blamed on Iran.

On Sunday she also said that France will send a radar to Saudi Arabia to help bolster the kingdom's defence system.

Parly arrived late Saturday in the UAE and held talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, according to the UAE state news agency WAM.

The two countries share strong ties and are engaged in a number of defence agreements.

In 2009, France opened its first military base outside Africa in the UAE, with some 700 personnel stationed permanently.