France says Abu Dhabi to host headquarters for European naval mission for the Gulf
ABU DHABI (Reuters) - A French naval base in Abu Dhabi will serve as the headquarters for a European-led mission to protect Gulf waters that will be operational soon, France's defence minister said on Sunday.
France is the main proponent of a plan to build a European-led maritime force to ensure safe shipping in the Strait of Hormuz after tanker attacks earlier this year that Washington blamed on Iran.
Tehran has denied being behind the attacks on tankers and other vessels in major global shipping lanes off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in May and which increased tensions between the United States, Iran and Gulf Arab states.
"This morning we formalised that the command post will be based on Emirati territory," Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters at a French naval base in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE.
The command centre will host around a dozen officials representing the countries involved, she said. In a speech to French military personnel, she said the next time she visited the base she hoped the mission would be operational and thanked the UAE for supporting it.
The UAE has tempered its reaction to the attacks and has called for de-escalation and dialogue with Iran.
On Saturday, Parly said the initiative could start early next year and around 10 European and non-European governments would join, pending parliamentary approval.
First announced in July, the plan is independent of a U.S-led maritime initiative which some European countries feared would make U.S.-Iranian tensions worse.
Parly said the two missions would coordinate in order to ensure safety of navigation in an already tense area.
"We hope ... to contribute to a navigation that is as safe as possible in a zone which we know is disputed and where there has already been a certain number of serious incidents," she said. She also condemned Iran's latest violations of a 2015 nuclear deal.
On Saturday, Parly said Paris was sending Saudi Arabia defence equipment to confront low-altitude attacks after Riyadh requested help following a September assault on the kingdom's oil facilities which Washington and Riyadh have also blamed on Iran. Tehran has denied involvement.
"We have not had an equivalent request from the UAE," she said on Sunday.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Mark Potter)