Saudi crown prince kicks off official visit to Paris

Saudi crown prince winds down global image-building tour in France

Saudi Aramco will sign eight deals worth $10 billion with French firms on Tuesday, the chief executive of the state-run oil giant said on Monday - the main contracts expected to be sealed during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to France.

A Franco-Saudi deal to develop Al Ula, a Saudi city richly endowed with archeological remnants, is also set to be a central highlight of the visit, the source added.

When asked about civilian casualties, Prince Mohammed said his country was working to modernise its rules of engagement to avoid civilian casualties, but said that in "military operations throughout history, whatever the country, there were mistakes".

Under the reforms closely associated with the crown prince, social restrictions have been loosened, such as bans on cinemas and women driving.

"I can not think of a better partner for culture and art than France", Saudi Culture Minister Awwad Alawwad told AFP.

"The president speaks to everyone, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Qatar." the French presidency said in a statement after the two dined on Sunday night at the Louvre museum.

Prince Mohammed's decision to skip a visit to Station F, Europe's largest start-up incubator founded by billionaire Xavier Neil, is likely to disappoint Macron, especially after the crown prince met technology titans in Silicon Valley last week.

Saudi crown prince winds down global image-building tour in France

Ahead of prince Mohammed's trip to France, Saudi officials suggested relations were strong between him and Macron, both young leaders with reformist agendas.

"The leadership of both countries share much in common".

But the trip follows a period of underlying tensions, with Macron seeking to bolster ties with the Arab world's biggest economy while also managing other relationships with Middle Eastern nations. Macron is only eight years older than the prince.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is in Paris, also attended.

Spain and Saudi Arabia's royal families are very close as King Felipe VI's father Juan Carlos was a close friend of the kingdom's late King Fahd, who reigned from 1982 to 2005, and is close to his brother King Salman.

Three out of four French people believe it is "unacceptable" to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, according to a poll last month by independent research group YouGov.

Amnesty International also took out a full-page advertisement in the Liberation newspaper on Monday, featuring the feet of an executed prisoner, which urged Macron to talk about human rights with Prince Mohammed.




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