French minister discusses military links with Saudi

Posted in Broader Middle East | 04-Jun-08 | Source: Gulf in the Media

Agence France-Presse

French Defence Minister Herve Morin held "very positive" talks with Saudi officials on bilateral military links and selling French armaments to the oil-rich kingdom, an aide said Tuesday.

The talks with King Abdullah and defence officials were "very positive," covering "the structure of (defence) cooperation between Saudi Arabia and France," the aide told AFP, requesting anonymity.

They also covered the proposed sale to Saudi Arabia of FREMM frigates and Fennec, Cougar and MH90 transport helicopters, said the aide, a diplomatic adviser to Morin.

He said Paris was putting in place a new state firm, ODAS, to handle arms contracts with Saudi Arabia.

The firm will succeed the now defunct Sofresa, an arms export company which served as a broker for deals between Paris and Riyadh.

Morin, who met with Abdullah in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Monday, also discussed with his Saudi hosts the possibility of French participation in a Saudi project to build a security fence along the kingdom's border with Iraq, the aide said before Morin ended his two-day visit.

Morin delivered to Abdullah a message from French President Nicolas Sarkozy "dealing with regional issues, chiefly Lebanon, but also Iran and Iraq."

The message and the discussions focused on French-Saudi cooperation in promoting a solution in Lebanon "and giving its new president a chance," the aide said.

Sarkozy will visit Lebanon on Saturday, becoming the first Western head of state to meet Michel Sleiman since the former army chief was elected Lebanese president on May 25 following a Qatari-brokered deal to end an 18-month political crisis.

Both France and Saudi Arabia support the ruling majority which reached the deal with the Hezbollah-led opposition backed by Syria and Iran.

Morin met in Riyadh late Monday with the king's son Miteb, who serves as assistant deputy commander of the National Guard.

He held talks Tuesday with Prince Khaled bin Sultan, assistant defence minister for military affairs, before leaving the Saudi capital.

Morin had last visited Saudi Arabia in October.