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Hollande boosts ties in Gulf as Qatar signs Rafale deal

French President Francois Hollande walks with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in Doha, 4 May 2015. Reuters/Christophe Ena/Pool

French President François Hollande boosted ties in the Gulf on Monday as he oversaw the deal for the sale of 24 Rafale fighter jets and headed to Saudi Arabia for a summit.

Hollande was to be the first Western head of state to attend a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh.

“If we are present here in Qatar and the region it is because France is considered a reliable country which a partner country can give their confidence to,” said Hollande as Paris tries to deepen political and economic relations with the Gulf monarchies, particularly Qatar.

The 6.3-billion-euro contract – the third one this year for Dassault after deals to sell Rafale to Egypt and India – also includes MBDA missiles and the training of 36 Qatari pilots and 100 technicians by the French military.

Hollande’s visit comes at a crucial time for the six-nation GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) amid the Saudi-led coalition's bombing of rebels in Yemen, world concern over the rise of Islamist militants and worries over a nuclear deal with Iran.

Qatari investors have taken stakes in major French companies – oil firm Total, luxury goods group LVMH and French football club Paris Saint-Germain.