France, Saudi seeking to seal quickly billions of euros in deals

  • World
  • Tuesday, 05 May 2015

French President Francois Hollande, right, is greeted by Saudi Arabia's King Salman upon his arrival at Riyadh airport, Saudi Arabia, Monday, May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Christophe Ena/Pool

RIYADH (Reuters) - France is in talks to agree billions of euros worth of contracts in Saudi Arabia that could be completed quickly, ranging from defence to civil aviation, transport and energy, the French government said on Tuesday.

Speaking after President Francois Hollande held talks with key ministers of Saudi Arabia's new cabinet, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the two countries had set up a joint committee to seal some 20 projects over the coming months.

"If these projects are finalised, then that will represent several dozen billions of euros," he told reporters, adding the first deals should be realised "quickly."

"We feel there is the desire by the new team to go quickly in its choices."

Declining to give specific company details, he said talks in the defence sector were at an advanced stage. He confirmed that some of those deals involved naval projects.

Hollande said some of the contracts could be confirmed as early as June, with more to be announced at a Franco-Saudi business forum in October.

"We want to act quickly," he told a news conference in Riyadh. "We are here to set up a long-lasting strategic partnership."

Hollande was in Riyadh, his fourth visit since becoming president, at the invitation of Saudi Arabia to attend a Gulf leaders summit. Over the last three years, France has been nurturing its links with Gulf states diplomatically and it is beginning to see commercial rewards.

France on Monday signed a $7 billion (4.60 billion pounds) contract with Qatar for Rafale fighter jets and has already won about $15 billion of defence contracts in the region over the last year.

Fabius said other sectors included energy, where Total is interested in a solar energy deal, and a feasibility study for nuclear power.

Talks were also held with the chief executive of Saudi Arabian Airlines on Tuesday concerning a possible new order for plane supplier Airbus, Fabius said. Rail infrastructure negotiations for Jeddah and the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina were also in the works, he said.

"Things accelerated during this visit. These are extremely important projects. Our partnership is moving up a gear," Fabius said, adding that he was chairing a steering committee with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam to oversee the contracts.

(Editing by William Maclean and Ingrid Melander, Larry King)

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