PARIS: The visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Paris and his anticipated meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron is a sign of the strength of Saudi Arabia’s relationship with France and of the depth of the bonds of their friendship.
The most significant element of the visit is the timing, amid a turbulent international and regional climate and only a few days after US President Joe Biden’s trip to the Gulf.
The crown prince’s visit illustrates the desire expressed by a number of nations, including Saudi Arabia, to diversify cooperation with the rest of the world, even in areas traditionally reserved for America.
In this context, France holds a special place, given the regular and sustained relations between Macron and the crown prince, as evidenced by the trip made by the French leader to the Kingdom as part of his January tour of the Gulf.
In Paris, while addressing various aspects of bilateral relations, the two leaders will review the economic partnership and ways to strengthen it in sectors of mutual interest.
During their meeting in January, they agreed to strengthen the participation of the private sector in economic exchanges, as well as the sharing of expertise and the development of skills.
Vision 2030, initiated by the Saudi crown prince, and the France 2030 economic plan, are vectors of opportunities and convergence.
The respective commitments in the field of environmental and biodiversity protection will also be on the agenda.
Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will once again emphasize the importance of commitment to the fight against climate change on the basis of the Paris Agreement. And the Kingdom’s own ambitious twin Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives are firmly supported by France.
The visit will also provide an opportunity to discuss cultural relations between the two countries, an area in which Paris and Riyadh have succeeded in establishing a fruitful cooperation for the development of the AlUla region. The two leaders aim to grow the collaboration, particularly in the development of museums, the preservation of heritage, and film production.
On a more strategic level, energy security, in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, will be high on the agenda. A source suggested the Saudi crown prince would give assurances to Macron over the Kingdom’s efforts to mitigate the crisis.
France will be looking to present itself as a major partner in view of the American disengagement from the Middle East, and the Saudi desire to diversify partners both on a military and economic level.
Talks on the Palestinian issue are a certainty and the same goes for Lebanon, a country mired in an endemic political crisis and inertia that has prevented even its closest partners from coming to its aid.
The other focus of discussions will be on the Iranian nuclear issue and its regional repercussions. Macron has maintained that the solution to the impasse involves a return as soon as possible to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal signed with Tehran in 2015.
In this context, the meeting with the crown prince will give Macron the chance to reaffirm to Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region, that France is ready to participate in the development of the outline of a new partnership.
For Macron, who has just started his second presidential term, this is undoubtedly a way of initiating a new dynamic of foreign policy with regard to the Middle East region.