France and Saudi Arabia have common interests in the Middle East, from Lebanon to Syria to Iran, and France sees the rift between the US and its traditional Arab ally as a heaven-sent opportunity to muscle in on the lucrative arms trade and other big ticket exports to the oil rich Gulf.President Hollande will reportedly be in Saudi Arabia later this month, Al-Monitor reports, and hopes to tie up a massive arms deal between the two countries. While in Riyadh, Hollande will also discuss other matters of mutual interest in Lebanon and Syria:
A French source said the focus of the discussion with King Abdullah on Lebanon will be about protecting Lebanon’s stability, maintaining its constitutional institutions and their work, and activating the work of the Friends of Lebanon group, which was a French initiative launched during the UN General Assembly last September….Regarding Syria, a source at the Elysee said the French president will discuss with Saudi officials the two countries’ agreement that “there’s no political solution in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad stays at his post.”
The prospect of a lucrative arms deal is also enticing:
Before 2013 ends, Hollande wants to sign a deal with the Saudis that would save the French company Thales from certain crisis. The deal may involve the Saudis buying new Crotale missiles worth 2.7 billion euros, and a deal to maintain and rehabilitate rockets and border and air defenses, valued at 2.4 billion euros. The Saudis already agreed to this deal, but they were still hesitant to give their final signature.
As the US has edged away from the Saudis (and the Israelis) in the Middle East, the French have supported a hard line stance at the talks with Iran. That’s a position that’s likely to continue, as France uses the rift between Washington and its traditional Middle Eastern allies to bolster its own profile in the region.