Iran says French base in Gulf "not conducive" to peace

TEHRAN Sun Feb 3, 2008 8:11am GMT

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran declared on Sunday that a French military base in the Gulf would not help security and peace in the oil-rich region.

Paris signed a deal with the United Arab Emirates in January to build France's first permanent military installation in the Gulf, just across the water from Iran.

The base will accommodate 400 to 500 personnel, keeping France within reach of sea lanes through which over a third of global oil shipments pass.

"We are against any kind of increase in the military presence of foreign forces in the region," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said when asked about the French base.

"We do believe that such a presence is not conducive to the security and peace in the region ... but on the other hand it could be a contributing factor to ... any insecurity in the region," he told a news conference.

His comments in Farsi were translated by Iran's satellite Press TV television station.

France is among Western powers seeking to step up pressure on Iran to halt sensitive atomic work which they fear is ultimately aimed at making bombs. Iran says its programme is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity.

The UAE lies near the sensitive Strait of Hormuz waterway, a major oil shipping route where U.S. ships had a close brush with Iran in early January.

Washington, whose Fifth Fleet is based in the Gulf Arab island of Bahrain, says Iranian boats aggressively approached three U.S. naval ships and that the incident almost led to an exchange of fire. Tehran has dismissed the incident as routine.

The French Defence Ministry last week said forces from France, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar will hold their first joint war games in the Gulf later this month.

(Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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