French Defense Minister Alain Richard arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday with new offers by state-owned arms-maker GIAT Industries to sell Leclerc tanks to the kingdom, reported Reuters.
The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said Defense Minister Prince Sultan and senior military officials were at the airport to greet Richard when he arrived in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Richard later met King Fahd, SPA added.
The agency did not say what issues would be raised in the talks. But Richard said earlier this month that GIAT has improved its offer in the field of industrial cooperation with Saudi Arabia and that talks were under way to establish which part of the program would take place in the kingdom, said Reuters.
It is Richard's third visit to the country since 1998. The trip is part of "ongoing consultations with his Saudi counterpart as part of the strategic partnership" between Paris and Riyadh, in the wake of Chirac's visit to the kingdom in 1996, a Saudi government source told AFP, adding that "the partnership was consolidated by the visit to France in 1998 of the Saudi crown prince."
On Sunday, Richard is to visit the Al-Kharg base where France has deployed eight Mirage fighters, an aerial tanker and 175 pilots and engineers, said AFP.
They are deployed in Saudi Arabia under "Southern Watch", a US-led operation to patrol the skies of southern Iraq from which France withdrew in 1996 when it was extended to more of the country.
Reuters said that several countries are vying to supply tanks to Saudi Arabia, which has insisted that the deal include transfer of technology allowing it to handle part of the program.
Richard said Saudi Arabia had also asked that, as part of the deal, France buy back AMX-30 tanks and other armored vehicles sold years ago.
The sale of 355 Leclerc tanks has been discussed for several years, but differences over cost and how much France was willing to invest in the kingdom in return have also been blamed for holding up the deal, according to Reuters –(Several Sources)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)