Saudi-French relations could easily rank as one of the most solid in the world, with an increasingly aligned view on tackling political and security issues, which have been buttressed recently by high-level meetings between leaders of the two countries in Paris and Riyadh.
The upcoming visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy premier and interior minister, is part of this qualitative shift in bilateral relations, particularly since it follows the second meeting of the Saudi-French Standing Coordinating Committee that brought together more than 1,500 businesspeople from the two countries in Riyadh.
This shared view on regional issues has seen the Kingdom and France seeking a new government in Syria without the involvement of Bashar Assad. Paris has always supported the revolution, and called for an end to the massacre of the Syrian people.
However, new realities are emerging with the involvement of Russia and Iran in the conflict, coupled with America’s diminishing role, which require new regional and international alliances that can ensure a positive outcome to the crisis. The feeling among many is that the only solution is a cease-fire and negotiated settlement. The alternative is a long and ugly civil war in Syria.
Saudi Arabia has taken significant steps to ensure the stability and security of the region as a whole, which includes the launch of Operation Decisive StormMohammed Fahad al-Harthi
Saudi Arabia, the foremost leader in the region, is seeking with the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states to fill the leadership void in the Arab world. France is considered a strategic partner because of its prominent status in Europe. This partnership will go a long way in bringing much-needed security and stability to the region.
The presence of French President François Hollande at the recent Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh was a clear indication that Gulf nations consider France not only as an economic partner, but also a crucial ally on political and security matters.
No chop and change
Saudi Arabia has always emphasized that it is open to developing relations with all nations, and is not in the business of chopping and changing allies. Some analysts have incorrectly suggested that Saudi-French rapprochement was an action to compensate for Riyadh’s disappointment at America’s increasing reluctant stance in the region.
On the contrary, Riyadh is clearly signaling that its relationship with Washington remains strong and strategic, but does not prevent the building of ties with important countries in Europe or the East. This is why Saudi diplomats are active in the world’s capitals, and Riyadh has become a significant hub for world leaders and officials.
France, a victim of terrorist groups, sees Saudi Arabia as a cooperative partner in facing up to extremists. There is clearly a recognition of how much nations can learn from the Kingdom’s success in tackling terrorists, and that terrorism is a global phenomenon that is everyone’s responsibility.
Saudi Arabia has taken significant steps to ensure the stability and security of the region as a whole, which includes the launch of Operation Decisive Storm. France, much like other members of the United Nations Security Council, supported resolution 2216 aimed at restoring the legitimate government in Yemen and driving out the Houthis who have been attempting to take over the country.
On the Lebanese front, Riyadh and Paris have agreed that Hezbollah’s activities have resulted in escalating conflict in the country. Paris has supported the Saudi decision to cut funding to the Lebanese army and security forces because of this untenable situation. It has also backed the Kingdom’s position to support the Lebanese people and not those trying to implement foreign agendas.
It is therefore abundantly clear that France and Saudi Arabia will continue to work on all fronts to ensure mutual prosperity and security for their citizens. The visits of the crown prince and his deputy have opened the doors to an unprecedented commitment to these goals.
This article first appeared on Arab News on March 2, 2016.
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi