Saudi deputy crown prince holds talks in Paris
PARIS - Solidifying his position on the international political stage, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz completed a trip to France meant to reinforce traditional ties and promote his ambitious reform plan to restructure the kingdom’s economy and wean it off its dependency on the energy sector.
A French official described Mohammed’s visit as “of great importance due to the diplomatic, military, counterterrorism, economic and cultural issues that were discussed between the two sides on the highest level”.
Mohammed, who recently concluded a high-profile visit to the United States, met with French President François Hollande, who last year became the first foreign head of state to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, as well as top officials and prominent businessmen.
“The visit constituted an opportunity to listen to Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan and vision,” said French Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Bertrand Besancenot.
Besancenot explained that ministers who accompanied the prince met with their French counterparts to review possible projects and “study agreements and contracts that take into consideration Vision 2030 and the Saudi reforms”.
Though no agreements were signed, new perspectives of cooperation were discussed and studied in the framework of the Saudi National Transformation Programme.
Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the kingdom’s Council of Economic Affairs and Development, met with French businessmen and heads of companies at the French employers’ federation MEDEF to discuss the reform plan.
“Vision 2030 would create big investment opportunities for France and its companies,” said a French businessman who was present at the meeting. There are more than 80 French companies operating in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated 27,000 French nationals based there.
Saudi Arabia and France are to have consultations this fall regarding contract projects that will be adapted to Vision 2030.
“Vision 2030 will transform our country,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said addressing a conference at the Académie Diplomatique think-tank. “It will unleash the potential of youth, create alternative sources of income, attract foreign investment and diversify our income.”
He said France “had reaffirmed its support for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and that the impact of this would be evident”.
Saudi Arabia and France have long enjoyed strategic and economic ties and share similar views on a number of international issues, particularly with regards to the war on terror and the conflict in Syria.
“Our points of view on several foreign policy issues in the region are very close,” Besancenot said.
French and Saudi ministers recognise that the prospects of a solution in Syria are far off. Jubeir again argued that Syrian President Bashar Assad should leave for he “is responsible for what is happening in Syria”.
Lebanon was discussed at length and, when the French brought up the subject, the Saudi side explained that the kingdom “did not abandon Lebanon”. On the contrary, Saudi officials insisted, Riyadh maintains its support of Lebanon and “is in favour of filling the presidential vacuum. A president should be elected but Hezbollah and Iran are blocking the election.”
Jubeir repeated the Saudi position towards Iran’s policies, condemning its acts in the region.
The war in Yemen was “not a war that we wanted”, Jubeir said. “We had to defend the government and open the door for a political process… We hope that the negotiating process will lead to an agreement.”
Improving communications was also something Saudi officials emphasised.
“We know that there are falsified ideas and misperceptions in the press and in public opinion in France as to the image of Saudi Arabia and this is not the fault of the French government. Maybe, we should be more open and should convey more messages and be more communicative,” Jubeir acknowledged.