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France signs deals worth USD 10 bn with Saudi Arabia

Riyadh: France on Tuesday announced a series of deals worth 10 billion euros (USD 11.4 billion) with Saudi Arabia, reinforcing growing ties between the two countries.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced the deals on Twitter during a visit to Riyadh, saying they showed his government was “mobilised for our companies and employment”.

The deals include contracts and letters of intent between the two countries, whose economic and political ties have been strengthening under President Francois Hollande.

There were few significant details immediately available on the deals, though one of the agreements was a Saudi order for 30 patrol boats.

The deals cover energy, health, food, satellites and infrastructure, according to the prime minister’s office.

The announcement came during the third high-level visit by French officials to the world’s biggest oil exporter this year.

France has been reinforcing links with the conservative Islamic kingdom – the Arab world’s largest economy – despite persistent criticism from rights activists of the kingdom’s record on civil liberties.

For Saudi Arabia, expanding ties with France are part of an effort to build alliances beyond its traditional defence partner the United States, to counter Riyadh’s regional rival Iran.

Valls late yesterday opened a forum to promote commercial ties between firms from France and Saudi Arabia.

He is on a regional tour which earlier took him to Jordan and Egypt, along with Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was also in Riyadh.

Valls’s office said additional negotiations had begun for potential agreements in telecommunications and surveillance satellites.

Hollande came to Riyadh in January to pay his respects after the death of king Abdullah.

In May, he returned to become the first Western leader to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit.

The order for patrol boats is the latest in a series of weapons deals Paris has made in the region this year.

On Saturday, Egypt signed a deal with France to buy two Mistral warships originally ordered by Russia.

According to French government sources, Egypt will pay 950 million euros, with “significant” financing from Saudi Arabia.

France this year also sold 24 of its Rafale warplanes to Egypt and Qatar.

In Cairo, Valls said highlighted joint efforts against extremism, saying: “We all have a common enemy – Daesh.”

He was using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, which has seized territory in Syria and Iraq, where it has carried out widespread atrocities, and inspired attacks elsewhere.