Saudi-French reset ties to form ‘unprecedented’ alliance
Saudi Arabia and France agreed Wednesday to sign $12 billion of deals
The sealing on Wednesday of $12 billion worth of deals between Saudi Arabia and France are set to take the alliance between the two countries to “unprecedented” levels, analysts said.
Experts commenting on a recent visit by prominent Saudi delegation headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Paris where he met with French President François Hollande and a number of key French decision makers argued that the deals were another step towards a much more closer alliance between two countries, especially after it is clear that both see eye-to-eye on major political issues.
“[The deals] mark an unprecedented rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and France at a time when Saudi Arabia is very cautious from Barack Obama and the United States regarding their insidious game on Iran’s nuclear program,” Christian Mallard, a Paris-based expert in diplomacy and international affairs, told Al Arabiya News.
“France and Saudi understood more than ever that they needed to steal a march on Iran as it became with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) the biggest threat in the region,” Mallard said adding that the Islamic Republic along with ISIS needed to be stopped from spreading their influence in the region.
France and Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday the signing of 10 contracts worth $12 billion, the bulk of which will take the form of a direct investment and that all deals were negotiated between the governments directly without any middlemen.
Saudi Arabia agreed to buy 23 Airbus H145 helicopters to be used by border patrol forces and according to a source close to the delegation “this was the only military deal as it was reasonably priced,” however, the Saudi defense ministry declined other offers on pricing grounds.
The Saudis also signed a nuclear waste disposal contract and a nuclear safety accord as Al Arabiya News sources confirm that these deals are the beginning of many joint projects to come and closer coordination which we will materialize further over the new few months.
Raphael Liogier, a political science professor at the Sciences-Po institute, told Al Arabiya News that “the signature of these deals show that Saudi Arabia has less and less trust in the United States and feels abandoned by Obama which is why it is looking for another reliable ally,” Liogier said.
“Saudi Arabia cannot rely on Russia as it is showing signs of closeness to Iran so it is calling upon France,” he said adding that Paris is “playing its card” to become a closer ally to the oil-rich country.
“Through these deals Saudi Arabia really wanted to strengthen the position of France in the region,” he added.
France and Saudi Arabia have been reinforcing their links as Riyadh seeks to broaden ties with top Western powers beyond its traditional ally, the United States, especially since relations between the Gulf monarchies and America have deteriorated over Washington’s efforts to strike a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
In recent years, bilateral trade between Paris and Riyadh has boomed, reaching more than 10 billion euros in 2014, according to Agence France Presse.
The latest deal was reached in November last year when France and Lebanon signed a Saudi-funded deal worth $3 billion to provide French weapons and military equipment to the Lebanese army.
Additionally, Liogier said that more deals should be expected between the two countries in the near future.
“It is only the beginning … more deals are to be expected between France and Saudi Arabia especially since the U.S. are showing some weaknesses and disagreements with the Kingdom.”
Speaking about the possibility for France to replace the U.S. as Saudi Arabia’s main ally, Liogier said: “On an economic level, Paris can probably not compete with Washington.”
“However, when it comes to advanced military technology, France can perfectly compete with the U.S. and become Saudi’s main ally,” he added.
Mallard did not seem to share the same view as he said that despite Obama’s “disastrous” foreign policy in the region the power the United States has in the Gulf and the world is “impossible” to be “matched” by France.
“Obama has a disastrous foreign policy in the region and he is completely naïve and blind regarding Iran … [The American leader] is playing Iran’s game in Iraq, Syria and everywhere which could lead to the expansion of Shiites against Sunnis in the region,” he said.
“However, the strength of America and its position in the Gulf region and elsewhere cannot be matched by France,” he said, “it is impossible for France to replace the U.S.”
“Even if Hollande wanted to replace the United States, Washington would prevent him from doing so,” he added.
From Riyadh’s perspective, the relation with Washington will always be solid and strategic; however, these closer-than-ever ties between France and Saudi Arabia are signs of a new, focused and determined Saudi policy making which aims to actively strengthen alliances across the world, particularly with countries that are determined to work with Riyadh on stabilizing the region; which by default makes Paris a much suitable partner than Moscow or Beijing for example.