According to well-informed sources, France is keen to take advantage of the tension in Saudi-US ties caused by Washington’s decision to re-evaluate its relations with Riyadh, while counting on this imbalance to promote its diplomatic and economic interests with the kingdom.
The sources told the French website Intelligence Online that President Emmanuel Macron was planning a visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in mid-May to activate his country’s economic diplomacy with the two countries.
Macron’s visit was initially scheduled to take place in mid-February and then in early March, in line with the French defence industry’s goal to have a share of the arms sales deals with the Gulf states, following Biden’s decision to temporarily suspend weapon sales to Riyadh and end his country’s support for the Arab coalition led by the kingdom in Yemen.
Paris is hoping to sell its Rafale aircraft to Abu Dhabi, which is making relentless efforts to acquire US F-35 fighters.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly’s visit to the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi in February, which is her sixth trip to the UAE, is expected to pave the way for new purchases for France. The French government is also paying special attention to Saudi projects related to water resources, waste management, construction and nuclear power.
The UK is also seeking to win contracts for its companies, while distancing itself from the accusations made by the US against Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in relation to his alleged role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Macron has been making efforts to present his country as an alternative partner for Saudi Arabia, instead of the US. However, the strategic nature of relations between the US and the kingdom, and the Saudi refusal to change its position on important issues for France such as the Iranian nuclear deal and the Franco-Lebanese initiative, may put an end to the hopes of the French president.