July 15, 1998
 
 
FRENCH DEFENCE MINISTER VISITS SAUDI ARABIA.
AGREEMENT ON STRENGTHENING BILATERAL COOPERATION AND TRAINING PROGRAMMES.
PRINCE SULTAN: RELATIONS WITH FRANCE IN ALL SECTORS GROW FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH.


The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud received the French Minister of Defence, Alan Richard, in Jeddah. They discussed the various aspects of bilateral cooperation and the joint desire for movement in the Middle East peace process.

The French Minister also met with Crown Prince, Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz, and Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and Aviation and Inspector General, with whom he discussed the means of consolidating military ties and promoting investments in the military-industrial sector. Mr Richard also handed Prince Sultan a letter from the French President, Jacques Chirac.

In a press conference after the talks Prince Sultan said in his answer to a question about Gulf security in light of current events. "France continues to strive for justice and peace", noting that the proposal of both the presidents of France and Egypt, Jacques Chirac and Hosni Mubarak, to convene an international conference for peace "was postponed to give an opportunity for the initiative of the United States as the sponsor of the peace process to arrive to a solution."

Prince Sultan also affirmed that the military cooperation, which has continued between France and Saudi Arabia since 1967, faced no difficulties or obstacles because both sides were "fully aware of the strategic aims and objectives of the other". He noted that joint committees were meeting every six months in Saudi Arabia and France to evaluate their accomplishments, and that was over and above the continuing regular bilateral meetings, contacts and visits.

The Saudi Minister did not allude to any new deals discussed with his French counterpart. He said that arms deals could not be concluded in one or two meetings and that discussions were ongoing and in accordance with the interests of the two countries and their armed forces. He said they had great hopes that they would cooperate on that basis.

Prince Sultan was asked about the possibility of cooperating in the field of military-industrial sector with France after the manifest Saudi success in this field. The minister replied that his French counterpart had observed the Fahd armored vehicle on display at the French arms exhibition, and that it "had surpassed expectations." He added that cooperation would continue according to Saudi needs as defined by ongoing studies.

Prince Sultan had welcomed his guest in his address at the start of their meeting. He stressed that French-Saudi relations covered the economic, cultural, social and military sectors and that these were ever growing in strength and solidity.

In reply, the French Minister described relations as "deeply-rooted." He praised the personal role which Prince Sultan had played "to strengthen bilateral ties." He added that cooperation programmes were intensifying and ongoing between the two countries although direct results could change from time to time according to the strategic planning of the two sides and according to the economic situation." He said that the changes were occurring with ease and were progressing "on the basis of the deep friendship between the two states and their ministers."

The short visit of the French Defence Minister, Alan Richard, lasted one day during which he discussed with Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, the Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and Aviation and Inspector General military cooperation between Riyadh and Paris.

Richard said that "his country and government regarded the Saudi Minister of Defence in particular with great esteem and as a friend of the French people for his role in developing bilateral ties. They praised the role which he was playing in developing relations, which he described as "brimming over with mutual trust" and as "having historical roots."

Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz and Alan Richard held a joint meeting in the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation in Jeddah. Prince Sultan said it came within the context of regular meetings which took place between officials of the two countries every six months to consolidate the range of bilateral contacts and visits between him and Minister Richard.

On the Saudi side the following attended the meeting: Dr Musaid Ibn Mohammed Al Ayban, Minister of State and member of the cabinet; Colonel Ali Al Khalifa, Director General of the office of the Minister of Defence and Aviation; Colonel Sultan Al Mutairi, Commander of the Air Force; Colonel Mohammed Al Fahd Al Faisal, Director General of the general institution for the military-industrial sector; General Prince Bandar Al Faisal Ibn Abdul Aziz, Senior Military Advisor in the office of the Minister of Defence and Aviation; General Abdul Aziz Al Hussein, Director of the department for external purchases; Major-General Prince Khalid Ibn Bandar Ibn Abdul Aziz of the armoured corps. From the French delegation the following attended the meeting: The French Ambassador to Riyadh, the Director of the defense office, the Director of international relations in the general administration for armaments, the Cultural Counselor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Advisor to the minister of industrial affairs, the Cultural Advisor to the ministry of defence, the Chairman of the board of directors of the company Soufrisa, and the French military attache.

Prince Sultan stressed in the speech he addressed to the French Minister that French Saudi relations grew more solid day by day. He recalled the first meeting held between King Faisal and the French President, Charles de Gaulle in 1976. "French-Saudi friendship continues to prosper decade after decade be it Saudi Arabia or in France," he said.

Prince Sultan noted that Saudi-French relations covered a host of sectors, including the economic, the cultural and the social. He pointed to the joint French-Saudi committee which met every six months in one of two the countries and cooperate on project evaluation which he said had yielded positive results.

Prince Sultan noted the French role in supporting the causes of peace. He said that both the President and government of France had always striven for peace and justice, and so he welcomed the proposal unveiled by the Presidents of both France and Egypt, Jacques Chirac and Hosni Mubarak, to convene an international conference for peace. He said that he had high expectations that it would build on the initiative of the United States in its role as the sponsor of the peace process, and that all would turn out for the best and for the cause of peace.

The French media had showered the visit of Minister Richard with much attention, believing it was a strong indicator that the two countries were close to signing an arms deal on the sale by Paris of Le Claire tanks manufactured by the state-owned company, GIAT Industries. That would have followed on from the sale to the United Arab Emirates in a deal worth $ 3.6 billion in 1993. But French government sources reiterated that the visit of the Minister was aimed at consolidating military cooperation between the two countries; they stressed that the Minister was not "a traveling salesman."

Prince Sultan stressed that "arms deals could not be completed in one or two meetings. Negotiations were ongoing in the interests of the two countries and their armed forces," he said. And he went on: "We have great hopes that the two could work together on this track in the near future." He pointed out that his meeting with Minister Richard came in the context of regular meetings between the two aimed at furthering bilateral visits and contacts. He said he believed the meeting is "an embodiment of the military cooperation between France and Saudi Arabia which dated back to 1976." He also noted that there were regular meetings between officials from both ministries which took place every six months. He stressed that there were no difficulties or obstacles in the way of cooperation and that both were aware of each other's objectives and responsibilities."

It is clear that the French Minister was impressed by the development recorded by the Saudi industrial complex, after he witnessed the performance of the Fahd armored car in the international exhibition recently held in his country and perhaps the future holds out much hope for French-Saudi cooperation on this score. Prince Sultan himself emphasized that, by saying that detailed studies would help realise this aim, noting that "Cooperation in this field depends on our needs. Nothing was decided in this meeting."

Meanwhile, Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, the Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and Aviation and Inspector General, stressed that Saudi Arabia stood by the Arab consensus and with the fundamental problem of the Arabs, that of Palestine and above all Jerusalem.

In a press statement following his meeting with the leadership of the Western Saudi fleet, Prince Sultan said "our objective is not only to convene an Arab summit, but rather to arrange our affairs so that the summit will be effective." He stressed that Saudi Arabia would never hold back from holding an Arab summit if it were called for by the Arab League.

Prince Sultan also commented on the issue of armament purchases while attending a new armaments exhibition for the Saudi armed forces. "There is nothing which prevents us signing any military agreements to buy arms or stage military exercises, be it with the Great Powers or with other states," he said. "But it is proper and right that such agreements be in the interest of the state and its citizens."

He added the policy demanded by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and by the Crown Prince required that, as he put it, "we act wisely in all our affairs." He also stressed that this policy will not affect the core of the matter.

Prince Sultan also expressed his delight and pride in the efforts made by the mariners of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's navy.

Prince Sultan also attended a party given in his honour on the occasion of his inspection of the leadership of the Western fleet. "We've grown used to getting together once a year, and to reviewing our work in the interim. I'm really happy with all that I've seen, both in the reports and in the intensive exercises you've undertaken. God Willing, your demands for progress will be realised now, and in the near future."

And he went on: "But on this occasion I want to express my sincere thanks to all those involved in the running of the security operation over this vast area, with its long stretches of bountiful coastline. Today I've witnessed the cooperation that exists between all the military sectors: between the navy and air force, and between the air and land forces. And I particularly want to mention the fruitful cooperation between the National Guard and the general security forces operating along the border. The leadership of the security forces throughout the land acts as one man, with one heart and one objective, the objective of service, service for the sake of the security and the peace of this generous people.

And therefore, dear brothers, as one of those entrusted with serving the security of this country, I would like to express my pleasure and satisfaction at what I witness and hear night and day of the genuine cooperation which is built on dedication and knowledge, on the self-confidence and on the enormous responsibility exercised by all those working in the security forces in this country.

Prince Sultan bestowed prizes to the officers of the Western fleet. Then the commander of the Western fleet gave Prince Sultan a present in commemoration of the occasion.