Franco-Saudi strategic partnership is solid, says Minister
Saudi Arabia – Bilateral relations/fight against terrorism/Iraq/Syria/United States – Statements by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, at his joint press conference with his Saudi counterpart, Mr Adel al-Jubeir (excerpts)
Riyadh, 24 January 2017
Thank you very much, Adel. I want to thank my colleague and friend Adel al-Jubeir for his welcome. Since I took office as Foreign Minister nearly a year ago, we’ve often had opportunities to talk, to meet, either at bilateral meetings like the one today – it’s my first visit here – or, very often, very regularly in Paris and also at many international bodies. This is a sign of excellent dialogue, trust and also great openness on the part of my partner Adel al-Jubeir.
Once again we discussed many subjects that concern us today, following the meeting with the King. Indeed, we share many things with Saudi Arabia. We have a strategic relationship that we want to strengthen. But we’re both also determined to defeat jihadist terrorism and continue bringing peace to the crisis-hit region, to every country affected by crises. In the fight against terrorism, we know our two countries are under threat and are victims of terrorism. And for us, the fight against terrorism is first and foremost a fight against Daesh [so-called ISIL] and al-Qaeda. I also recalled the need for cooperation in the battle against radicalization which is being fought here, which we’re also fighting in our society, in France, but which we must coordinate still more effectively at international level. We must also eradicate networks – they exist, they haven’t disappeared – and also work to dry up their sources of funding. In the framework of the international coalition, one working group is co-chaired by Saudi Arabia, which is doing very useful work on this subject.
I also saw we share the same views on many subjects. I’m thinking, for example, of the need to liberate Mosul, which is one of the sanctuaries of Daesh, but also subsequently to continue that battle to Raqqa in Syria. I told him about our operational commitments. I also told him about our confidence in the Arab forces’ ability to work to liberate those cities. But in addition to the military aspect – which is important –, if we want the lasting defeat of Daesh, it’s also important for the solutions provided to be political solutions, which include all the societies concerned, in all their diversity. This applies in particular to Iraq, where, if a segment of the national community isn’t integrated and brought into governance, then the risks of confrontation and radicalization remain.
The issue of national reconciliation is central for us; it’s an urgent necessity in Iraq. As for Syria, we’re aware of the terrible, tragic situation, with those hundreds of thousands dead, millions of refugees, displaced people and a country destroyed. We want at all costs to secure a lasting ceasefire, enable suffering people to receive humanitarian aid and then do everything to arrive at a political solution. We share the same vision. The Geneva Declaration of 2012, the framework of Security Council Resolution 2254 must be the basis of the political transition. So today there’s a meeting in Astana. We wanted it to be a success on at least one priority point, namely the actual cessation of hostilities. I don’t know if there will be an agreement. In any case, we’d like one. But at the same time, what we’re demanding is for the negotiations in Geneva to resume as quickly as possible, in the United Nations framework and under the aegis of the United Nations.
We also discussed the situation in Yemen. We support the efforts of the United Nations, of its special representative, to bring about a political solution. For us, it’s the only possible path: the path to a truce and political dialogue as soon as possible, without forgetting the humanitarian situation. We’ve discussed this issue several times, and [we discussed it] again this morning.
Middle East peace efforts
I thanked Adel al-Jubeir and Saudi Arabia for taking part in the conference on the Middle East that I hosted in Paris on 15 January. The final communiqué was an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative launched by Saudi Arabia in 2002, which still applies and also reiterates the international community’s traditional stance. It’s the reaffirmation that there’s no peaceful solution without the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel. This can be done only through negotiations between the parties. But by organizing that conference in Paris, we wanted to recall the urgent need to resume those negotiations, on the basis of the 1967 lines and with Jerusalem as the capital, whereas the current situation is leading to despair and violence.
Franco-Saudi trade and cooperation
The relationship with Saudi Arabia also has an economic dimension, of course. It’s already substantive. France’s main economic partnership in the region is with Saudi Arabia. Over the first 10 months of 2016 – we don’t yet have the final 2016 figures – our exports were up 20% compared to 2015. That’s a trend we must confirm; we’re working on it together. A recent Airbus order for 2017, announced last week, augurs well and is a strong sign. This morning I was very pleased to visit the huge construction project for the Riyadh metro, which is being built by one of the flagships of French industry, the Alstom group. They’re not building every line – there are six – but they’re building half with businesses, particularly civil engineering businesses and businesses here. I’ve been told it’s the largest metro project in the world. That gives you an idea of Saudi Arabia’s ambition in terms of equipping the country and, at the same time, the ability of businesses, particularly French ones, to meet the country’s demand.
So it’s a symbolic visit, and I’m delighted about that. There are other projects Saudi Arabia has launched; we’re ready to bid on them, in any case. And above all, we fully subscribe to the strategy the Crown Prince has called Vision 2030. We’ll have the opportunity to discuss it in greater detail this afternoon; we’ve started talking about all this. I went to KACST (King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology) this morning. We talked a lot about cooperation on research and innovation, support for start-ups, and the diversified economy Saudi Arabia wants to develop. I saw a very concrete sign of what Vision 2030 means, even though there are also a lot of other aspects concerning Saudi Arabia’s necessary diversification and modernization, which is under way.
At any rate, France is ready to cooperate even more at political and strategic level. Together we’re helping to resolve conflicts and emerge from crises, consolidate peace but also build a stable world, a world offering prospects, in particular to young people. That’s true in economic, educational and cultural terms. In any case, our Franco-Saudi strategic partnership is solid. In an uncertain world, in a changing world, with new administrations, with political decisions like Brexit and a rebalancing of global forces, it’s important for there to be centres of stability. And Saudi Arabia is one of the factors in that stability. But Franco-Saudi strategic cooperation is also one. (…)./.