FONTAINEBLEAU, France: French President Emmanuel Macron poses with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed upon their arrival at the Fontainebleau castle in Fontainebleau yesterday ahead of their working lunch. – AFP

FONTAINEBLEAU, France: French President Emmanuel Macron and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, one of France’s closest allies in the Gulf, yesterday vowed to work together to counter Islamist extremism after talks that underlined the strength of their partnership. The two met for a working lunch at the historic Fontainebleau Chateau outside Paris, where the United Arab Emirates has played a key role in restoration works.

France has close military, political and cultural ties to the United Arab Emirates, the capital of which is Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi has in the last month served as a hub for the evacuation by Paris of French nationals and Afghans from Taleban-controlled Afghanistan. “Both sides emphasized… they were both determined to fight extremism and terrorism and to strengthen their cooperation in security and defense,” the French presidency said in a statement after the talks.

On Afghanistan, both sides also insisted on the need “to respect the rights of women and girls, as well as minorities” after the takeover by the Taleban. Macron has a strong personal relationship with Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, who is seen as one of the most powerful figures in the Gulf, along with his close ally Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.

Analysts believe Macron and MBZ are united by a shared distrust of political Islam and particularly activities of Islamist political parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East. They also both have thorny relations with Turkey under its strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even if there have been signs of a thaw in ties between Ankara and the UAE and Paris over the last weeks. “We discussed our shared interest in deepening the strong and longstanding strategic ties between the UAE and France,” MBZ tweeted after the talks.

They also visited the historic theatre at the Fontainebleau Palace built between 1853 and 1856 under the nephew of emperor Napoleon I, Napoleon III, which has been painstakingly restored thanks to UAE funding and is now named after MBZ’s half brother Sheikh Khalifa, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE capital already hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, opened by MBZ and Macron in 2017, the first foreign institution to carry the name of the great Paris museum. “Building on the breadth and depth of their partnership, the two leaders believe they can meet together the challenges of today and tomorrow,” the French presidency added. – AFP