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DIPLOMACY

Hollande in Saudi Arabia for talks on Mideast crises, trade ties

Photo: AFP
2 min

François Hollande and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah held talks on escalating tensions in the Middle East on Sunday, with a focus on Lebanon and Syria, during a visit to a Riyadh by the French president also aimed at boosting commercial ties.

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The monarch highlighted a "convergence" of positions between the two countries on several issues, a member of Hollande's entourage said.

During the meeting Abdullah "expressed his concern, even anxiety, about regional crises – Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt – and praised France's courageous position on these key dossiers," the aide said.

Lebanon was at the top of the agenda, amid heightening tensions in Beirut after the assassination on Friday of Prime Minister Saad Hariri 's close aide, ex-minister Mohamed Chatah, in a car bomb.

The two leaders, meeting at the king's luxurious Rawdat Khurayim farm, 60 kilometres (37 miles) northeast of the capital, both expressed concern over Iranian interference in Lebanon and the region.

'Shared will'

Hollande later met with Hariri, a strong critic of the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria's civil war.

Hariri, the son of former premier Rafiq Hariri – who was assassinated in a massive car bomb in 2005 – lives outside Lebanon due to security fears.

In a statement Hariri highlighted "the importance of French support of the Lebanese state ... in particular the Lebanese army".

In an interview with prominent Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat on Sunday, Hollande spoke of the “shared [French-Saudi] will to strive for peace, security and stability in the Middle East”.

'Top business partners'

Hollande also said that Saudi Arabia is now “France’s top business partner in the Middle East” – a partnership based on Saudi oil imports but also on growing numbers of French products exported to the Gulf state.

A potentially divisive subject for the two leaders is Egypt. While Saudi Arabia has voiced unconditional support for the new Egyptian government after the ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi, Hollande, in his interview, called on interim President Adli Mansour to allow “all political movements that reject violence…to participate in the transition process”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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