Thursday, 21 June, 2018

Saudi crown prince visits France to strengthen bilateral ties

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tours Harvey-hit area Saudi crown prince's visit to focus on culture, tourism and business
Judith Alexander | 11 April, 2018, 14:03

Prince Mohammed lunches with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and goes on for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May on the kingdom's reforms, trade and investment relations, and defence and security cooperation.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rounded off a weeks-long tour of the United States with a weekend in Texas, where he met Saturday with both former president Bushes.

In a trip that appears focused on tourism, culture and the arts, the prince's delegation is set to host a forum Tuesday morning with multiple French business titans, which could trigger a host of memorandums of understanding.

Prince Mohammed comes to France after a almost three-week-long trip to the United States, preceded by a three day visit to Britain.

France, traditionally a major arms supplier of the Saudis, dismissed questions about big arms contracts during this trip.

Dozens of people staged a protest Sunday in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence, where the prince had previously been expected to attend a concert.

On the third day of the prince's trip, military equipment-maker BAE Systems says Britain has signed a multi-billion-pound preliminary order from Saudi Arabia for 48 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.

His global tour is meant to "garner recognition and acceptance as the de facto leader and next king of Saudi Arabia", Bernard Haykel, a professor at Princeton University, told AFP.

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Saudi officials project strong ties between Prince Mohammed and Macron, both young leaders undertaking the hard task of reforming their countries, but the trip follows a period of underlying tensions.

On the diplomatic front, the two countries share strategic regional interests notably against Qatar which they accuse of supporting extremists and of closeness with Iran, an arch enemy and regional rival to Riyadh.

The visit comes amid growing pressure on Macron at home from lawmakers and rights groups over France's weapons sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Three out of four French people believe it is "unacceptable" for France to continue selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, according to a poll last month by independent research group YouGov.

Macron invited Hariri to Paris for talks and he has since rescinded his resignation.

As US President Donald Trump threatens to tear up a 2015 nuclear cooperation deal with Iran, Macron will try to convince the Saudi prince that some agreement to curb Tehran's atomic ambitions is better than no deal at all, experts say.

And this week, 10 worldwide rights groups implored Macron to pressure Prince Mohammed over the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.

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