France tightens bonds with Saudis with projects worth billions
Top French and Saudi leaders will huddle Wednesday in Paris to discuss projects worth billions of euros, as France tightens relations with the conservative kingdom.
French President Francois Hollande will host Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister Prince Mohamed bin Salman after the inaugural meeting of a Franco-Saudi committee that is to discuss proposed projects in the aeronautics, nuclear power, health and investment sectors.
France and Saudi Arabia have been reinforcing their links as Riyadh seeks to broaden ties with top Western powers beyond traditional allies the United States.
The gathering in Paris comes hard on the heels of Hollande's visit to Riyadh in May when he appeared at a summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, making him the first Western leader to attend.
Saudi Arabia rolled out the red carpet for Hollande, who had a personal meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Salman during his visit. The French president was also the first Western leader to meet with the monarch after a major reshuffle in the kingdom's top leadership.
After the summit, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced Saudi Arabia - the Arab world's largest economy - and France were in talks regarding 20 projects potentially worth tens of billions of euros.
It is unclear if the Saudi visit this week will yield concrete signed contracts, but Hollande said in May that announcements on deals between the two nations could come as soon as June.
After months of negotiations, Paris and Riyadh concluded a deal last year over the sale of French weapons to Lebanon, which were paid for with a $3-billion (2.6-billion-euro) donation from Saudi Arabia. The first deliveries of the arms started in April.
Bilateral trade between France and Saudi Arabia has boomed in recent years, reaching more than 10 billion euros in 2014, according to French officials.