| ABU DHABI
ABU DHABI France's senior defence industry lobbyist said on Sunday he was confident the United Arab Emirates would buy Rafale fighter jets by 2015-2016, as the defence minister in Paris said talks on a deal had resumed.
In January, a diplomatic source told Reuters that France was hopeful of selling 60 Rafales to the UAE.
"There's a very big chance the customer could consider buying the Rafale somewhere in 2015-2016 in order to have them delivered in 2017-2018," the head of France's Defense Industries Council (CIDEF) chief, Christian Mons-Catoni, said.
He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a defence industry event in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. He declined to comment on the size of the potential sale.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was quoted as telling newspaper Les Echos at the same event that negotiations on a sale had restarted.
The French business daily also quoted Eric Trappier, chief executive of Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation (AVMD.PA), as saying he had been given a "roadmap" for relaunching talks, which fell apart due to a disagreement over price.
Mons-Catoni said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahayan had met Le Drian on the sidelines of the event.
Confirming the meeting, a UAE defence source said: "The talks at the highest levels between the UAE and France are going in the right direction."
President Francois Hollande visited Abu Dhabi in the second week of January and discussed bilateral relations and Iran's disputed nuclear programme with the Gulf country's leadership.
A French contract win in the UAE could lead to further contracts in the Gulf Arab region, which shares the West's concerns that Iran is using its nuclear energy programme to develop weapons, a charge Tehran has consistently denied.
Saudi Arabia inked a deal for U.S. weapons worth nearly $60 billion a year ago.
The on-off negotiations with France have been under way for several years. They hit an obstacle in November 2010 when Abu Dhabi publicly criticized Dassault Aviation, the maker of the Rafale, over the cost of the multi-role combat jet and sought information on the competing Eurofighter Typhoon.
(Reporting by Stanley Carvalho; additional reporting in Paris by Nicholas Vinocur; Writing by Amena Bakr; Ediding by William Maclean and John Stonestreet)