By Arab News
By Ghazanfar Ali Khan
Defense Minister Prince Salman held talks in Riyadh Saturday with his French counterpart Gerard Longuet and emphasized the Kingdom’s desire to strengthen partnerships between their respective defense ministries.
Addressing the meeting, Prince Salman said the visit reflects the deep-rooted relations between the two countries that date back to 1926.
“Our relationship is based on mutual interest and respect,” Prince Salman told the gathering attended by senior defense ministry officials.
Prince Salman spoke highly about the similarity of Saudi-French views on most international issues. He also noted their continuous contacts through diplomatic channels.
The Saudi minister expressed his hope that the meeting would not only strengthen bilateral relations in general but also the partnership between the two defense ministries.
SPA quoted Longuet as commending the Kingdom for its stability, which enables it to play a vital role at global level, stressing France’s keenness to strengthen its partnership with the Kingdom in various fields.
The talks, which also focused on ways and means to bolster defense ties, covered a range of other topics with special reference to the recent developments in the Middle East region and the world at large.
“In fact, the talks highlighted the strategic, security, political and economic partnerships between Saudi Arabia and France,” said a European diplomat when asked about the specifics of the discussions between the Saudi and French officials.
He said the French side also appreciated the Kingdom’s balanced regional and global policies in an apparent reference to Riyadh’s role in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.
A few proposals and plans for expanding defense cooperation were discussed during the meeting. Some French companies which have a substantial presence in the Kingdom are currently bidding for some major projects in different sub-sectors related to defense and aviation.
The talks were attended by high-ranking Saudi and French officials including Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan, Chief of Staff Gen. Hussein Al-Qubail, and French Ambassador Bertrand Besancenot.
The French foreign minister and his accompanying delegation were also received by Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, minister of state and commander of the National Guard, in Riyadh yesterday.
During the meeting, they discussed a number of issues of common concern, mainly ways of strengthening bilateral ties. The meeting was attended by senior Saudi and French officials and diplomats.
According to the European diplomat, some areas of cooperation were also discussed by the two sides. However, he could not provide specific details. “In fact, the cooperation between France and Saudi Arabia continues to deepen in this field,” said the diplomat, adding industrial cooperation in the defense sector can be one of the promising areas of cooperation.
Last month, French defense group Nexter announced it had received a Saudi order for 73 Aravis armored vehicles in the first successful deal for the product outside of France. Early last year, France signed a nuclear cooperation accord with Saudi Arabia, offering atomic expertise to the Kingdom. The cooperation agreement, which includes training of Saudi staff, was a first for the Kingdom.
Asked about the plans and proposals being discussed by the two sides, the diplomat said France has plans to upgrade the navy and cooperate in the area of air defense with the Kingdom. A UPI report published recently said French military electronics giant Thales was negotiating with Saudi Arabia for a contract worth up to $3 billion to upgrade the Kingdom’s air-defense network, particularly those guarding key military and government sites.
The French company’s regional arm, Thales International Middle East, is well established in Saudi Arabia. France, which is the third biggest arms supplier to the Arab countries, is keen to win some projects in defense and air sectors in the region. On the other hand, leading French plane maker Dassault Aviation is vying for some contracts in the region. Some of the Arab countries have already shown an interest in buying arms from France and some are keen to cooperate in the defense industry sector.