Saudi Crown Prince, French president affirm strong ties during 3-hour meeting

Saudi Crown Prince, French president affirm strong ties during 3-hour meeting

Saudi Crown Prince, French president affirm strong ties during 3-hour meeting

France is hoping for Saudi investments in technology, renewable energy, health and tourism.

The announcement that Saudi Arabia will make its first official appearance at France's Cannes film festival came after Prince Mohammed dined last week in Hollywood with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, along with film studio bosses and famed American actors including Morgan Freeman.

During his U.S. tour, the Crown Prince also had meetings with President Trump and former President Barack Obama.

Also named was Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, whom the New York Times has identified as the proxy buyer on behalf of the crown prince of Salvator Mundi, a $450m Leonardo da Vinci painting.

Around 14 memorandums of understanding in energy, agriculture, tourism and culture are set to be signed between French and Saudi organisations, a source close to the crown prince's delegation told AFP.

"Prince Mohammed is strengthening ties with traditional allies US, UK and France as he is set to be the next king of Saudi Arabia", Najah al-Otaibi, a senior analyst at pro-Saudi think-tank Arabia Foundation, told AFP.

Saudi officials project strong ties between Prince Mohammed and Macron, both young leaders undertaking the hard task of reforming their countries, but the trip follows a period of underlying tensions.

France nurtured closer ties with the Sunni-ruled kingdom under president Francois Hollande, who was tough on Iran in nuclear negotiations and whose policies on conflicts across the Middle East broadly overlapped with Saudi positions.

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The dinner set the tone for the official part of the visit starting on Monday, which follows a weeks-long tour of the United States, Britain and Egypt where he courted a host of multimillion dollar deals.

On the diplomatic front, the two countries share strategic regional interests notably against Qatar which they accuse of supporting extremists and of closeness with Iran, an arch enemy and regional rival to Riyadh.

"It's never easy for an authoritarian like him to accept that".

Demonstrators will greet the prince with protests over the Saudi-led coalition's strikes in Yemen to fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

A private letter sent to Macron from 12 worldwide non-governmental organisations urged him to pressure MBS to ease a blockade on Yemeni ports and suspend French arms sales.

But there are several areas of convergence, including anti-terrorism cooperation as France mourns the latest jihadist rampage in the towns of Carcassonne and Trebes last month where a 25-year-old Islamist killed four people.

France, traditionally a major arms supplier of the Saudis, dismissed questions about big arms contracts during this trip.

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