Research In Motion, seeking to offset plunging US sales, is preparing to open stores across the Middle East where local demand for its BlackBerry phones has held up better. The company is in the final stages of negotiating a lease on a flagship store of up to 1,500 square feet (140 square metres) in Dubai, the UAE city-state known for its glitzy malls, said Sandeep Saihgal, managing director of RIM’s Middle East business. Stores with local partner Axiom Telecom are planned across the region, he said. “We’re getting the first one up and running and then we’ll be looking at other cities across the Middle East - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar,” Saihgal said in an interview Tuesday at RIM’s headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario, where he was visiting from his base in Dubai. While Americans are dumping their BlackBerrys for Apple Inc.’s iPhone or Android devices, RIM is counting on first-time smartphone buyers across the Middle East, Africa and Asia to choose a BlackBerry. Helped by features like the free instant- messaging BlackBerry Messenger program, shipments in the Middle East and Africa more than doubled to 2.29m units in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, outselling the iPhone by a margin of 4-to-1, IDC data show.