Saudi Arabia's crown prince visits France to court foreign investment


French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) welcomes Saudi Arabia's crown prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) at Paris - Le Bourget airport, north of Paris, on April 8, 2018.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince has kicked off a flamboyant three-day tour of Paris amid the French public's rage at the country's arms sales to the kingdom.

In a trip that appears focused on tourism, culture and the arts, the prince's delegation is set to host a forum Tuesday morning with multiple French business titans, which could trigger a host of memorandums of understanding.

Prince Mohammed comes to France after a almost three-week-long trip to the United States, preceded by a visit to Britain.

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France, the world's third-biggest arms exporter, counts Saudi Arabia among its biggest purchasers, and defense firms including Dassault and Thales have major contracts there.

Prince Mohammed's scheduled visit to the Paris-based start-up campus Station F on Monday with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was abruptly cancelled, but the two leaders were scheduled to meet for lunch.

"Saudi Arabia is not resetting diplomatic ties with France", a source close to the Saudi government told AFP.

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor has begun investigations and opening arguments in the corruption cases of princes, top officials and businessmen who were detained late previous year, an official told pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat yesterday, as reported by Reuters.

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Saudi officials project strong relations between Prince Mohammed and Mr Macron, both of whom are undertaking reforms to transform their countries.

In France, the visit will include business events and a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, a similarly young and ambitious leader keen on radical reforms.

But the visit follows a period of underlying tensions.

The Gulf dispute with Qatar - isolated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt - is not likely to be high among topics covered, if at all.

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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 Prince Mohammed.

Macron invited Hariri to Paris for talks and he has since rescinded his resignation.

Macron has also announced plans to be the first French president to visit Iran since 1976, as he seeks to build relations with the two competing regional powers in the Middle East.

Demonstrators will greet the prince with protests over the Saudi-led coalition's strikes in Yemen to fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

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