Saudi Deputy Crown Prince’s France visit to see billion-euro deals struck

French President Francois Hollande, left, talks with Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown and Defense Minister Prince Moahmmed bin Salman, andduring a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (File Photo: AP)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that Saudi Arabia and France will sign landmark agreements worth tens of billions of euros in the fields of defense, civil aviation, solar energy and training during the three-day official visit of Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, that began on Tuesday.

The two countries have already completed negotiations, he told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

He said French President Francois Hollande will hold wide ranging talks with Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad on Wednesday at Elysee Palace on ways to further strengthen bilateral relations.

“Their talks will cover the entire gamut of political, economic and military fields, in addition to the major developments in the region, especially the Yemeni and Iraqi situations,” Fabius said, adding that the relations between Riyadh and Paris are fruitful and they are heading toward achieving strategic goals.

Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad will also hold separate talks with Fabius and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian during the visit. He will also meet leaders of the French Muslim community, including Dalil Boubakeur, chairman of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, and Jack Lang, president of the Arab World Institute.

According to a French economic expert, the visit would be a big boost to the activities of the Saudi-Franco committee, which was launched last month. “The economic diplomacy, initiated by Fabius, will be instrumental in bringing more foreign investments into France,” he said.

Fresh impetus to Saudi-French ties

Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, second deputy premier and minister of defense, headed to France on Tuesday on an official visit.

The visit follows an invitation from the French government and is in response to the directive of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

French President Francois Hollande will host Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad after the inaugural meeting of a Saudi-Franco committee that is to discuss proposed projects in the aeronautics, nuclear power, health and investment sectors.

The gathering in Paris comes on the heels of Hollande’s visit to Riyadh in May when he appeared at a summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, making him the first Western leader to attend.

After the summit, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that Saudi Arabia — the Arab world’s largest economy — and France were in talks regarding 20 projects.

The visit comes after the deputy crown prince’s official visit to Russia last week, during which he held talks with President Vladimir Putin and top Russian officials.

Following the meetings, Saudi Arabia signed six agreements with Russia, including one relating to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

France and Saudi Arabia are tied by a strategic partnership since 1996 that reflects the importance of the relationship between the two countries. This relationship was established when King Faisal met with General de Gaulle in 1967.

The Saudi-French ties were further strengthened when King Salman as crown prince led a delegation of officials and businessmen to Paris last September. The high-level delegation included Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, who was at that time minister of state, cabinet member and chief of crown prince court and special adviser.

The visit bolstered the spirit of increased bilateral cooperation that was boosted by French President Hollande’s summit in Riyadh in December in 2013 where the French leader met with the late King Abdullah.

The links that bind the two countries are not only political, economic and financial, but also humanitarian as several thousand French citizens visit Makkah and Madinah for Umrah and Haj.

France is a preferred academic destination for Saudi students. There are 1,500 Saudi students studying in various universities in France.

Saudis also visit France for tourism. Last year some 270,000 Saudis traveled to France, where they get four-year multiple entry visas without any hassle.

France is the Kingdom’s third-largest investment partner with $15 billion. Some 27,000 Saudis are employed in 80 French companies operating in the Kingdom.

This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on Wednesday, June 24, 2015.

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