Saudi crown prince ends first foreign tour in France, Spain
LONDON - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz wrapped up his global tour with high-level visits to France and Spain, taking the opportunity to stress his positions on regional issues, including Riyadh’s reservations concerning the Iran nuclear deal.
Crown Prince Mohammed concluded a 3-day visit to Paris on April 10. He met with high-ranking officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron, a meeting that observers said was intended to smooth relations over tactical issues mainly tied to the regional threat posed by Iran.
Macron stressed that France and Saudi Arabia agreed on the need to curtail Iranian “expansionism.” “This strategic vision means reducing all the projects of expansionist political Islam that could feed other forms of terrorism and destabilise the region,” Macron said.
Macron also expressed support for the Iran nuclear deal, which the French helped broker. The agreement is viewed in Riyadh as a short-term solution with severe long-term ramifications.
“France believes we must preserve the structure of the Iranian nuclear deal but it must be complemented by the work that has been done on limiting Iran’s ballistic activity and its regional expansionism,” Macron said during a news conference.
“On the subject of Iran, we have different tactical views on the deal… but a coherent strategic vision.”
Crown Prince Mohammed urged the international community to adopt a tougher stance on Iran and compared the 2015 nuclear agreement to appeasement of Nazi Germany prior to the second world war.
“We do not want to repeat an agreement that happened in 1938 and caused a second world war,” he said.
“There are many destructive projects in the world and, unfortunately, today that most of these destructive projects exist in the Middle East, next to us in Saudi Arabia,” Crown Prince Mohammed said. He added that the regime in Tehran has goals that are purely ideological and does not serve the interests of Iran or its citizens.
The crown prince said the Iranian government used funds released because of the nuclear deal to further its regional agenda rather than investing the money domestically.
“(The Iranian regime) paid to send rockets to Saudi Arabia and support terrorist organisations in many parts of the world,” Crown Prince Mohammed said. “The Iranian regime also supportedterrorism, not only in Hezbollah and the Houthis or those organisations, but today we find many of al-Qaeda’s leaders are in Iran, including the son of Osama bin Laden, who grew up in Iran and now he is trying to be the next leader of al-Qaeda.”
The trip to France also had significant cultural dimensions. Riyadh is seeking French expertise to help Saudi Arabia with cultural ventures tied to the Vision 2030 economic diversification programme.
This included an agreement with the Paris Opera to help the kingdom set up its own national orchestra and opera house in Jeddah. A deal was signed to develop al-Ula archaeological site, a region of cultural significance in the Saudi north-west that includes the UNESCO archaeological site Madain Saleh.
Draft agreements totalling $18 billion were signed during Crown Prince Mohammed’s visit, including a deal between Saudi Aramco and Total to build a large petrochemical refinery in the Eastern province.
Macron hosted a gala dinner for the crown prince at the Elysee Palace, an event attended by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The final stop of the prince’s global tour was longtime ally Spain, where he met with Spanish King Felipe VI, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Defence Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal. The Spanish government hopes to sell the Saudis five navy ships with a total cost of $2.47 billion.
To present a new and modern Saudi Arabia to the international community, Crown Prince Mohammed has been on an ambitious international tour for several weeks. He travelled to Egypt, the United Kingdom and the United States before his stops in France and Spain.