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French president boosts trade ties as he wraps up Saudi visit France’s industries can meet Riyadh needs: Hollande

RIYADH, Dec 30, (Agencies): French President Francois Hollande sought to boost trade with Saudi Arabia on Monday as he wrapped up a two-day visit to the oil-rich kingdom. Leading a delegation of four ministers and 30 top French business figures, Hollande told a joint business gathering that France’s industries can meet Saudi needs. “We can provide you with what you want,” he said, highlighting France’s capabilities in the energy, transport, and food sectors.

He said current bilateral trade, amounting to some eight billion euros ($11 billion) is “a lot, but not enough,” even “if this doubles in 10 years.” French exports to Saudi Arabia in 2013 amounted to three billion euros ($4.14 billion), keeping the balance tipped in favour of Saudi Arabia on the back of its oil exports. Hollande insisted, however, that 2013 had been a year of ‘big successes” for French companies in the Saudi market. “Total has built the world’s largest refinery for (Saudi oil giant) Aramco, Sanofi has opened a plant to produce insulin, Veolia manages water in Riyadh and will build a desalination plant,” Hollande said. The French leader on Sunday held talks with King Abdullah on escalating tensions in the Middle East, with a focus on Lebanon and Syria. The monarch highlighted a “convergence” of positions between the two countries on several issues, a member of Hollande’s entourage said. Hollande stressed on his country’s strong relations with Saudi Arabia, pointing out that Paris and Riyadh share convergent views towards Arab, regional and international issues.

He added during a press conference held here Sunday night, upon his official visit to the country, that both countries support the Syrian opposition which is striving to reach democracy and peace, stressing on the importance of reaching a political ending to the crisis through Geneva II conference. Hollande believed that President Bashar Al-Assad is forming a tactical alliance with radical militants in order not to reach any solution for the Syrian crisis. Peace will not be achieved under the ruling of the current regime, he added. Saudi Arabia and France agreed on offering Iran a chance to continue its nuclear energy program for civil purposes, saying that everyone has the right to gain such peaceful means of energy that contribute in the progress and development of nations, he affirmed. He strongly refused the emergence and spread of military nuclear energy of Iran in order to maintain peace in the region, a matter of great importance to Paris. Saudi and France are keen on supporting the unity of the Lebanese people, and the security of their country, especially during such critical times, he said. France also expressed its support of the Egyptian people in their quest for democracy, and to hold elections that would boost security and stability to the country, he added.

Earlier, Hollande and Saudi King Abdullah on Sunday held talks on escalating tensions in the Middle East, with a focus on Lebanon and Syria, during a visit also aimed at boosting commercial ties. The monarch highlighted a “convergence” of positions between the two countries on several issues, a member of Hollande’s entourage said. During the meeting Abdullah “expressed his concern, even anxiety, about regional crises — Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt — and praised France’s courageous position on these key dossiers”, the aide said. Lebanon was at the top of the agenda amid heightening tensions in Beirut after the assassination of former prime minister Saad Hariri’s close aide, ex-minister Mohammad Chatah, in a car bomb on Friday.

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