France signs deals worth $10bn with Saudi Arabia

GMT 14:20 2015 Tuesday ,13 October

Arab Today, arab today France signs deals worth $10bn with Saudi Arabia

French military shipbuilder DCNS' CEO Herve Guillou (L)
Riyadh - Arab Today

France on Tuesday announced a series of deals worth 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) with Saudi Arabia, reinforcing growing ties between the two countries.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced the agreements on Twitter during a visit to Riyadh, saying they showed his government was "mobilised for our companies and employment".

The deals include contracts and letters of intent between the two countries, whose economic and political ties have been strengthening under President Francois Hollande.

There were few significant details immediately available of the agreements, though one of them was a Saudi order for 30 patrol boats.

The deals covered energy, health, food, satellites and infrastructure, according to the prime minister's office.

The announcement came during the third high-level visit by French officials to the world's biggest oil exporter this year.

France has been reinforcing links with the conservative Islamic kingdom -- the Arab world's largest economy -- despite persistent criticism from rights activists of the kingdom's record on civil liberties.

For Saudi Arabia, expanding ties with France are part of an effort to build alliances beyond its traditional defence partner the United States, to counter Riyadh's regional rival Iran.

Valls late on Monday opened a forum to promote commercial ties between firms from France and Saudi Arabia.

He is on a regional tour which earlier took him to Jordan and Egypt, along with Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was also in Riyadh.

Valls's office said additional negotiations had begun for potential agreements in telecommunications and surveillance satellites.

Hollande came to Riyadh in January to pay his respects after the death of king Abdullah.

In May, he returned to become the first Western leader to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit.

The order for patrol boats is the latest in a series of weapons deals Paris has made in the region this year.

- 'Common enemy' -

On Saturday, Egypt signed a deal with France to buy two Mistral warships originally ordered by Russia.

According to French government sources, Egypt will pay 950 million euros, with "significant" financing from Saudi Arabia.

France this year also sold 24 of its Rafale warplanes to Egypt and Qatar.

In Cairo, Valls said highlighted joint efforts against extremism, saying: "We all have a common enemy -- Daesh."

He was using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, which has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, where it has carried out widespread atrocities, and inspired attacks elsewhere.

Both France and Saudi belong to the US-led coalition that has bombed IS, which has claimed responsiblity for attacks in the kingdom this year.

Riyadh and its Sunni-dominated neighbours accuse their Shiite regional rival Iran of meddling in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Since March, the kingdom has led an Arab coalition backing local Yemeni forces, first with air strikes and now also with ground troops, against Iran-supported Huthi rebels who seized much of Yemen.

Human rights watchdogs have repeatedly criticised the coalition's aerial bombardment of Yemen, saying they have struck areas without any military targets.

French aid agency Action Against Hunger (ACF) on Monday said Valls's visit seemed to favour the negotiation of contracts, notably military ones "with a powerful economic ally", instead of looking for diplomatic solutions to the war in Yemen, from which civilians are suffering.

Valls was due later Tuesday to hold talks with King Salman.

Valls's office said the prime minister would request "a gesture of pardon, humanity and clemency" for a member of the minority Shiite community, Ali al-Nimr, who is facing the death penalty.

He was only 17 when arrested in February 2012 after taking part in pro-reform protests and his case has raised international concerns.

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