Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) began his official visit to France on Monday after he landed in the European country. He dined with French President Emmanuel Macron at Paris’s historic Louvre museum after flying in Sunday.
Macron is in a tricky situation as he will have talks with the young leader as he seeks to enhance ties with the world’s top crude exporter.
— Saudi Gazette (@Saudi_Gazette) April 8, 2018
The prince who also leads his country’s defence is set to meet French Defence Minister Florence Parly. Campaigners are expected to mobilise to denounce French weapon exports to Saudi Arabia despite the Kingdom’s role in the long-running war in Yemen.
Majority of the French citizens believe it is “unacceptable” to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, according to a poll last month by independent research group YouGov.
The visit comes after a tumultuous period at home that saw a major military shake-up and a royal purge as the crown prince consolidates power to a degree well beyond that wielded by previous rulers.
HRH Crown Prince Visits former US President George H.W. Bush.
— SPAENG (@Spa_Eng) April 7, 2018
Nearly 18 MoUs are expected to be signed at an official Saudi-France Forum on Tuesday in the fields of energy, agriculture, tourism and culture.
A Franco-Saudi cooperation deal to develop Al Ula, a Saudi city richly endowed with archeological remnants, is also expected to be a central highlight of the visit.
The Prince has used his global tour to project his reforms – including the historic lifting of a ban on women driving, cinemas and mixed-gender concerts – as part of his pledge to return the Kingdom to moderate Islam.
Saudi officials showcase strong ties between Prince Mohammed and Macron, both young leaders undertaking challenging reforms to transform their countries.
However, the latest trip of MBS has its share of tensions. Macron waded into a regional crisis last November when Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri tendered his resignation on live television from Riyadh, apparently under pressure from the Crown Prince.
Macron invited Hariri to Paris for talks and he has since rescinded his resignation, a development that analysts say exposed the limits of the Prince’s authority.
Meanwhile, US President has warned to tear up the 2015 nuclear cooperation deal with Iran, Macron also faces the challenge of convincing the Prince that some agreement to curb Tehran’s atomic ambitions is better than no deal at all, experts say.
The Crown Prince, however, has emphasised closer ties with Washington just as Macron has sought to improve relations with Iran.