No big deals expected in Mohammad’s France trip

In recent years, France had nurtured new links with GCC with tough stance on Iran

Paris: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman arrives in Paris on Sunday for a two-day visit that will focus on the crises in Yemen, Syria and Qatar and the Iran nuclear deal.

After trips to Britain and the United States with major contracts envisaged, Prince Mohammad will attend cultural events, political meetings and an economic forum. While a tourism project between the two countries will be announced, MBS is not expected to clinch any mega-deals.

French officials dismiss any notion that the absence of huge contracts reflects any weakening in the relationship, saying they seek a new “method” of working with the world’s largest oil exporter that does not depend on eye-catching new business.

A warm relationship between Riyadh and Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande did not result in the sharp expansion of business Paris had sought.

“Competition is fierce so we had to rethink the models of relationships. Less talk about major contracts and more focus on sectors that are less spectacular such as health, education and tourism,” said a senior French diplomat.

But analysts note that Saudi Arabia has emphasised closer ties with US President Donald Trump just at a time when French President Emmanuel Macron has in turn sought to improve relations with Iran and vowed to preserve the nuclear deal.

In recent years, France had nurtured new links with Gulf Arab states due to its tough stance on Iran in nuclear negotiations, and the broad similarity of their policies on conflicts across the Middle East.

On Tuesday, Prince Mohammad will have dinner with Macron to discuss “a new strategic partnership”, with a particular focus on investment in renewable energy and the digital economy, Macron’s office said.

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