Sarkozy hails Saudi king reforms

Published January 14th, 2008 - 02:44 GMT

French President Nicolas Sarkozy ended a visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday saying French companies would sign major contracts with Riyadh potentially worth 40 billion euros. "They are immense contracts, both civilian and military," Sarkozy told reporters. "We are talking about 40 billion euros (59 billion dollars) in potential deals."

 

Sarkozy, on his first Gulf tour since taking office in May, said before his arrival in Qatar's capital Doha that the contracts would be signed "in the coming weeks and months." According to AFP, a French official said on Sunday that delegations from the two states signed four political and energy cooperation agreements, and outlined infrastructure and military contracts worth nearly 40 billion euros.

 

Sarkozy, who started his tour Sunday with a visit to Riyadh, told Saudi and French businessmen earlier on Monday he was worried about the "brutality" of oil price increases which "are affecting growth and purchasing power."

 

Sarkozy became the second French president after his predecessor Jacques Chirac to address Saudi Arabia's Shura (consultative) Council. "France wants to be a friend of Saudi Arabia, a friend of the Arab world, a friend who does not lecture but tells the truth," he said in a speech to the 150-strong council.

 

Sarkozy hailed reforms introduced by King Abdullah, including his efforts to improve conditions for women, who are subjected to a host of restrictions in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdon, including a driving ban, and must cover from head to toe in public. "With regard to the situation of women and freedom of expression, Saudi Arabia has been moving," Sarkozy said while conceding that the movement had been "slow."

 

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