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Gulf king mocked French jet as ‘yesterday’s technology’

In a new blow for France’s increasingly tough fight to find foreign buyers for its Rafale jet fighter, a leaked US cable reported the King of Bahrain mocking it as “yesterday’s technology.”

King Hamad of Bahrein met US General David Petraeus on November 1 last year to dicuss defence cooperation in the region, according to one document from a slew of secret US diplomatic traffic released this week by the Wikileaks website.

“King Hamad asked General Petraeus for his help in encouraging US aircraft manufacturers to participate in the inaugural Bahrain Air Show, scheduled for January 2010,” the cable, written by the US embassy in Manama, reported.

“He said that France was pushing the Rafale and would be there in force although he agreed with Petraeus that the French fighter was yesterday’s technology,” the leaked diplomatic cable said.

France considers the Rafale a state of the art warplane but has struggled to find any foreign buyers to support the project. Paris’ main hope now rests on Brazil agreeing in the coming weeks to buy 36 of them.

A French navy Rafale F3 crashed Sunday into the Arabian Sea as it returned to its aircraft carrier from a mission over Afghanistan.

At the meeting, Hamad also correctly predicted that France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy would lose out on an attempt to sell nuclear reactors to Bahrein’s neighbour, the United Arab Emirates.

“Warming to the subject of French commercial diplomacy and referring to President Sarkozy, King Hamad said, ‘The UAE will give him a hard time soon, they’re not happy with the project he’s offered them’.”

Paris learned a month after the Manama meeting that France’s Areva had not won the 20-billion-euro contract with Abu Dhabi, despite Sarkozy’s determined push to make nuclear technology the centre of his trade strategy.

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