Defense Cooperation on Chirac's Agenda in Saudi

French President Jacques Chirac began a state visit to Saudi Arabia Saturday during which he hopes to talk the oil-rich kingdom into eventually buying French Rafale fighters and a border monitoring system.

Defense Cooperation on Chirac's Agenda in Saudi

Chirac, accompanied by his wife Bernadette, was greeted by King Abdullah when he landed at Riyadh airport at the head of a delegation comprising the foreign, defense, economy and external trade ministers, in addition to more than a dozen businessmen representing major French businesses. "No signing of a (defense) accord is envisaged" during Chirac's visit, his fourth to the Gulf country, presidential spokesman Jerome Bonnafont said on Thursday. But a diplomatic source in Paris said France hopes the trip will at least pull off a Saudi promise to open negotiations on the purchase of the Rafale and the Miksa border protection system. "Cooperation is going on" on the issue, Bonnafont said.
   
French aerospace group Dassault Aviation confirmed last April that talks had taken place on the purchase of the Rafale. The French daily Les Echos said at the time the discussions focused on the purchase of 48 fighters with an option for 48 more in a deal valued at six billion euros (7.2 billion dollars). The fourth-generation Rafale, a multi-role combat jet which can carry out interception and reconnaissance missions as well as nuclear strikes, has yet to find an export market. Singapore snubbed it in September and went for Boeing's F-15, but Dassault is planning to offer the Rafale when it will bid for a contract to supply fighters to India. Bonnafont said the subject of the Miksa electronic border monitoring system will be "raised" during Chirac's visit, which will last until Monday.
   
Electronic defense manufacturer Thales would be looking to a seven billion euro (8.4 billion dollar) deal to supply 225 radars to Saudi Arabia over a period of 12 years. he radars would serve to detect any infiltration by land, sea or air along the 5,000 kilometers (3,106 miles) of Saudi borders, notably with violence-wracked Iraq and Yemen. The sale of the Miksa -- acronym for Ministry of Interior Kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- would also include a telecommunications network, reconnaissance aircraft and about 20 helicopters.
   
Thales chairman Denis Ranque told reporters in Riyadh Saturday he expected talks on the proposed sale to "progress" during Chirac's stay, but said he would be "surprised" if a deal were finalized. France, number three arms exporter after the United States and Britain, holds a 12 percent share of the global market and counts Saudi Arabia among its main clients.
   
French imports from Saudi Arabia, which sits on more than a quarter of global oil reserves and is the world's top crude exporter, amount to three billion euros (3.6 billion dollars) annually, compared to 1.3 billion euros (1.5 billion dollars) in exports. Chirac, whose visit comes some two months after it was announced that the kingdom would buy Typhoon Eurofighter jets from Britain, "wishes to see French companies getting more active in Saudi Arabia," according to Bonnafont.
   
The French leader will be King Abdullah's guest for dinner Saturday evening and will then hold talks with the Saudi monarch. On Sunday morning, he will visit Dir'iya, birthplace of the Al-Saud ruling family, and go on to address the Saudi appointed Shura (consultative) Council. Chirac will take part in a French-Saudi economic gathering before inaugurating an Islamic arts exhibit jointly organized by the Louvre and Riyadh museums. On Monday, he will hold a news conference and meet the French community before returning home. Chirac last came to Saudi Arabia in August to offer condolences to Abdullah on the death of king Fahd.

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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