AFP – French President Francois Hollande arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday for a visit aimed at boosting prospects of commercial cooperation between the countries and addressing escalating tensions in the Middle East.
Hollande will hold talks with Saudi King Abdullah, but will also meet former Lebanese premier Saad Hariri and Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba in the kingdom, said a member of his entourage.
Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz met Hollande upon his arrival in the capital Riyadh. The French leader is scheduled to meet the king at his Rawdat Khurayim farm, 60 kilometres (37 miles) northeast of the capital.
Four ministers and 30 top figures in French business have accompanied Hollande on the visit.
France and Saudi Arabia share the “will to work for peace, security and stability in the Middle East,” Hollande said in an interview published in the Saudi-owned daily Al-Hayat published on Sunday.
On the commercial front, Hollande said in his interview that Saudi Arabia has become France’s “top client in the Middle East” with trade exchange exceeding eight billion euros (USD $11bn) in 2013, including French exports worth three billion euros.
The balance remains in Saudi Arabia’s favour on the back of its oil exports to France.
He noted “good results” that marked commercial relations between the two countries in 2013, citing contracts won by French companies in the oil-rich kingdom, including French Alstom winning the Riyadh metro contract.