ARCHIVE – In this file photo of March 22, 2018, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, meets with the Secretary of Defense of the United States, Jim Mattis, at the Pentagon in Washington. Prince Mohammed is making his first official visit to France, which hopes to benefit from his reorganization of the conservative kingdom. Reports from the French media say the prince arrives on Sunday, April 8, 2018. (Cliff Owen, File / Associated Press)
by Elaine Ganley | AP by Elaine Ganley | AP April 8 at 6:45 a.m.
PARIS – The crown prince of Saudi Arabia makes his first official visit to France, which hopes to benefit from his reorganization of the conservative kingdom.
No major arms contracts are expected to be signed during Mohammed bin Salman's visit, but a "strategic partnership" will be announced on Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron. The French media say that the prince arrives on Sunday.
The 32-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, now at the center of the kingdom's power structure, has instigated important reforms to shed the austere image of the kingdom. The changes include giving women the right to drive, the introduction of concerts and promising cinemas.
France hopes to join that march into the future by possibly investing in sectors such as technology, renewable energy, health and tourism that Saudi Arabia wants to develop, said an official from the Macron office. That includes the development of a UNESCO-listed desert site.
A visit to "Station F", a large left incubator for startups, is on the agenda of the crown prince.
Protesters will greet the prince with protests by the Saudi leadership of the coalition's air strikes in Yemen to fight the Houthi rebels backed by Iran. Ten human rights organizations have asked Macron to demand Saudi Arabia to end the air strikes and lift a blockade that exacerbates the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Will discuss the war in Yemen, the war in Syria and the fight against terrorism and terrorism financing, said the French official.
Private time in France is also on the real calendar, although details are scarce. The royal family owns luxurious properties in France, including a mansion on the Riviera.
Prince Mohammed arrives in France after an almost three-week trip to the United States, preceded by a three-day visit to Britain. The prince ended his trips to the United States with more than $ 2.3 billion in sales of promised weapons and $ 1.3 billion in artillery.
France, traditionally a major arms supplier to the Saudis, dismissed questions about large arms contracts during this trip.
are not entirely disappointed "in the absence of offers of weapons," insisted the official of the Macron office. "We want to be part of this new dimension" developed by the crown prince, which gives way to "new cooperation, less directed towards isolated contracts and more towards investments in the future".
The official was not authorized to speak publicly before the visit.
The Gulf dispute with Qatar, isolated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, is not likely to be high among the issues covered, if at all. The four countries cut off Qatar's land, sea and air routes in June for their alleged support of extremists and close ties to Iran, which Qatar flatly denies.
A senior Qatari official said during a recent visit to Paris that his country would welcome French mediation. The official spoke on the delicate subject under condition of anonymity.
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