Sarkozy is keen to expand French interests in the Gulf [AFP]

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has signed a deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for France to establish its first permanent military base in the Gulf.

The agreement reached on Tuesday will make France one of the first Western countries other than the United States to have a permanent base in the region. 

The planned facility will be able to house up to 500 personnel.

During his visit to Abu Dhabi, the latest stop on his tour of the Gulf, Sarkozy was also expected to conclude a deal with his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, on nuclear co-operation that could be worth up to $6 billion.

France already has long-standing military co-operation accords with countries in the Gulf, including the Emirates and Qatar.

'Nuclear right'

The accord for co-operation in civilian nuclear activities, a first step toward building a nuclear reactor, would be the third such deal France has signed with Arab nations recently, after Libya and Algeria.

Sarkozy also offered Saudi Arabia nuclear assistance during his visit to the kingdom on Monday.

France generates a large majority of its power from nuclear reactors and is keen to export its technology and expertise in developing civilian energy.

In an interview with Al Jazeera while in Qatar, Sarkozy affirmed Arab nations' right to nuclear energy.

However, he said the right did not extend to Iran as he believed the Islamic Republic should prove definitively it had no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons before it should be allowed to develop civilian nuclear energy.

"It would be giving credit to the current Iranian regime if civilian nuclear energy is only used by western democracies," he said.

"France tells Iran 'give up your race for a nuclear weapon - it's a risk and you don't really need it'. And, if you [Iran] stop the race for a nuclear weapon, you would have access to civilian nuclear power."

Sarkozy's comments came as officials revealed that Areva, the French nuclear reactor manufacturer, had signed a $700 million electricity distribution and transmission deal with Qatar.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies