THE PRESIDENT – Ladies and gentlemen, this is the second time I’ve come to Saudi Arabia since I was elected. (…)
Our bilateral relations are excellent. They stem from history first of all, because for decades France and Saudi Arabia have together upheld a number of principles in international life and developed relations that have grown deeper over time. But it’s true that for several months our cooperation has been growing stronger.
Firstly through a shared understanding of the regional crises. We have the same position on Syria: the urgent nature of a political solution, the Geneva II conference, which must lead to a transition and not a continuation, and the desire to support the opposition – the one that recognizes democracy and wants to take part in Syria’s future.
On the Iranian nuclear programme, we have the same determination: to let Iran continue its civilian nuclear programme – and I’ll come back to this – because every nation has the right to acquire energy, which can be a source of progress tomorrow. But on the other hand, we’re opposed to nuclear proliferation; that’s been the whole thrust of France’s position and in particular that of the Foreign Minister in the discussions that took place in Geneva and led to an interim agreement.
We also have the same position on Lebanon’s integrity and unity, and we know how fragile its equilibrium may be, given the influx of refugees. One must be aware that a third of the Lebanese population is now of Syrian origin, given the number of displaced people. On that basis, we’d like to give strength to the Lebanese and hope they’ll continue to be united and rally together in this period. We also wanted to play our role in supporting Lebanon; this will be our role in the international group that has been formed.
On Egypt, we’d like there to be – and this is France’s position – a political transition that can lead to elections soon.
On bilateral cooperation – that is, the relationship we have between our two countries – I note there’s been considerable progress. Our trade has doubled in 10 years, and in 2013 alone this trade exceeded €8 billion.
Saudi Arabia is our main trading partner in the Middle East, and France is the third-largest foreign investor. We’ve had very major contracts signed throughout 2013, in many spheres: I’m thinking of Alstom for the Riyadh metro, Veolia for the big desalination plant in Saudi Arabia and EADS for satellites, but also Thales and DCNS; I could add so many more. (…)
King Abdullah and I looked at areas where we could have trading and industrial prospects. Health is one of them; we also signed a very major agreement to encourage the development of major pharmaceutical projects and of research. (…)
At economic level, there are several points I want to emphasize. First of all everything to do with transport. We have good prospects for urban transport, bus networks and high-speed passenger transport. On the aerospace industry, we have negotiations that are making progress. In the energy sphere, both on renewables and nuclear energy, we have targets we want to achieve in the near future. (…)
To symbolize and demonstrate the strength of our relationship, there’s an economic and financial partnership agreement that was reached between our two countries, whose aim is to encourage innovation, investment and exports. The purpose is threefold: investment in the two countries, innovation – technology – and also the desire to carry out projects together. (…)
Q. – (…) Franco-Saudi relations have recently developed and broadened in various spheres, particularly that of defence. How do you see this cooperation and its implications for the two countries? Did you discuss Saudi Arabia’s needs in terms of arms?
THE PRESIDENT – For several years France has had a defence partnership with Saudi Arabia. We already have many companies working to address Saudi Arabia’s military needs.
I want to mention a few: I mentioned DCNS – that is, everything related to frigates and submarines. I can also mention EADS, as I said, for satellites, but not only for satellites. We have Thales for missiles, we have companies already working with Saudi Arabia, and I’ll have the opportunity to talk to the Crown Prince tomorrow about the scale we can give this cooperation.
The idea is security: how to ensure there can be still more security in the region. (…)
Q. – President Suleiman has announced that Saudi Arabia is going to give Lebanon $3 billion to buy French weapons. Can you confirm this agreement and give us details?
THE PRESIDENT – On the relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, we’re talking about the two countries’ sovereignty. (…) What I know is that France has, for a long time already but again recently, been equipping the Lebanese army and intends to respond to all the requests made of it.
Why? Because, as I’ve said, Lebanon must remain united; its integrity must be respected. Its security must be guaranteed, for all Lebanese people, for all sectors of Lebanese life, for Lebanon as a whole. (…)
Q. – You’ve said the Syrian President uses terrorist groups in Syria and extremist groups. Is this a stance against the Russian statements made by Mr Lavrov, who said the sole aim of the Geneva conference was to discuss terrorism in Syria? What are you expecting of the Geneva conference? And what about the rapprochement recently noted between the United States and Iran?
THE PRESIDENT – You’ve asked several questions. The first is: isn’t Bashar al-Assad playing a game, using the extremists to actually justify the repression he’s unfortunately been pursuing further in recent days against his own people, with terrible bombardments in Aleppo. My answer is yes, there is indeed a kind of alliance between those forces to make the country incapable of reaching a solution.
You asked me a second question: what purpose must Geneva serve? To find that same solution, and the solution can only be a transition, as I’ve said, not a continuation. If it’s to convene Geneva II and prolong what’s happening, there will be no results.
In a moment, I’ll be talking to the President of the Syrian National Coalition, and this will indeed be the focus of our conversation: how to ensure the conference can be useful? Under what conditions? So it must be held, but in order to lead to a peaceful solution, which can’t be done with the current regime.
Third point: you also asked me what Iran’s role is in this period. There have been statements by the Iranian President – I met him myself in New York, incidentally – at the United Nations General Assembly. I told him that words are fine but deeds are better, including to resolve the Syria issue.
As for the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme, you know what France’s position has been: to set requirements. An interim agreement was reached on those bases, but we’re being totally vigilant. (…)
We’re taking care it’s entirely respected. Moreover, the sanctions won’t be even partially lifted unless the agreement itself is respected. And following this interim agreement, we want to begin negotiations so we can have the certainty, the guarantee, that Iran is definitively renouncing nuclear weapons.
So we’re always ready to enable bridges to be built, but we must still have partners who are moving in the same direction. (…) The region’s security must be guaranteed. That’s one absolute principle. The second principle is that there must be no nuclear weapons in Iran. (…)./.