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The Golden Age for Saudi-French Relationships

18 March 2016

By Salman Aldosary

The ''Golden Age'', that is how a French official described the Saudi-French bilateral relationships to Asharq Al-Awsat. The description summarizes the vision convergence the two countries share on the majority of cases. France's stances from regional cases, which are both abundant and complex, is much more aligned with the Saudi perspective than other western countries; starting with the Syrian crisis, the Iranian nuclear case file, Yemen, Libya, and finally the fight on terrorism. Both France and Saudi Arabia are considered a main element in the counter-terrorism mission for spreading both security and peace on a regional and a world-wide scale.

Saudi-French consent was given to all the aforementioned and in an issued statement following an official visit to France, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Naif confirmed that both countries are prepared to continue and reinforce bilateral cooperation, which plays well to the fight against extremism, sectarian sedition, cuts off funding sources supporting terrorism, and limits the phenomenon of violence in all its forms including ethnicity and religion.

Within less than two years the Riyadh-Paris connection was the most active in comparison to the one shared with other European countries, starting with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz's visit to Paris in September 2014. At the time, King Salman was still the crown prince.
The recent period also witnessed other significant visitations, like Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman visiting Paris mid-2015, and now the noteworthy official visit the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef has concluded in Paris. Let alone all the other visits each of the French president, prime minister, and minister of foreign affairs have paid Riyadh during the same period.

Riyadh wants to send out a clear message, not only to the French government, but to all parties and forces, even the far-right ones, which is that Saudi Arabia doesn't consider the French stances on the regional suits to be only classified as an in between the lines approach. Relationships must be promoted to reach strategic partnership in all of political, security, economic, financial affairs, commercial, industrial, academic, and cultural domains.

Whenever political stances coincide furthermore, partnership reinforcement draws closer for other domains which are beneficial to both sides. Riyadh did not allow for the Lebanese aid cut to affect negatively on the relationship with France, given that the aid was initially mediated with French sponsorship. Saudi Arabia did not put the French government in a tight spot, instead it confirmed that the artillery purchased would be transferred to the Saudi Arabian army, and the contract with France will not be cancelled.

One cannot mention Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef visiting France without pondering at the time it took place. The visit came consequent to efforts on muddling the Saudi-French relationship after the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's visit, and the right winger's attempts on forcefully pushing for reinforcement of ties with Tehran demanding what they call ''re-balancing'' taking over by implementation of different policies. However, the recent visit confirms how anchored the Saudi-French partnership is, alternative to all the disturbances, the visit attempted to further develop co-affairs and encouraging more opportunities for both countries.

It should also serve as a reminder to mention that Saudi Arabia last year signed contracts holding the value of 15 billion dollars with France, which represent a crème de la crème state of affairs on the two countries' partnership. As for the certainty on Iranian-French affairs, it is still absent, and is considered by some French sources a ''virtual reality''.

The Saudi-French relationship, the first chosen station attended officially by Crown Prince Muhammed bin Nayef after his assignment as Crown Prince, can summarize the reflection on Riyadh's wish to form strategic partnerships based on mutual benefit with several major world powers. Paris hasn't given anything away to Riyadh for free, and vice versa. Anything presented to the other, firsthand benefits the granter then the second party.

Salman Aldosary is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. 

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