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Economy

Saudi eager to sign tens of billions in deals with France, says French foreign minister

media French President Francois Hollande is received in Riyadh by Saudi Arabia's King Salman, 4 May 2015 Reuters/Christophe Ena

Saudi Arabia’s new leaders hope to move quickly on deals with France worth tens of billions of euros, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday at the start of a two-day visit to Riyadh with President Francois Hollande for a Gulf leaders’ summit.

The visit comes a day after Hollande oversaw the signing of a warplanes deal with Qatar worth 6.3 billion euros.

“We sense the new team’s desire to move quickly,” Fabius said of the Saudi deals during a news conference. “We’re working on 20 projects, which may represent several billion euros,” he said.

Fabius said the agreements could include new contracts for French oil company Total, weapons and naval equipment, transportation and the solar and nuclear energy industries.

"These are extremely important prospects that show that the partnership is moving at a new speed with some concrete results," the minister said.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia ascended to the throne in January and shuffled his court last month. His son, Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman — now second-in-line to rule — is negotiating the deals with France.

Hollande is the first Western leader to attend a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is made up of Saudi, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman.

The visit comes amid the Saudi-led coalition's bombing of rebels in Yemen. All GCC states but Oman are members of the coalition.

France has voiced its support of the campaign against the Shiite Houthis rebels who overran the capital Sanaa in September. Riyadh’s Sunni regime fears the rebels will take over the entire country.

Hollande is feeling some pressure, however, from rights groups which accuse Saudi of dropping cluster bombs in civilian areas in Yemen and want the French president to raise the issue during the visit.

Hollande also met Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi in Riyadh late Monday.

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