Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Paris on Sunday at the start of a European tour after three weeks in the United States, where he pitched for investments and support against arch-rival Iran.
France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who worked closely with Prince Mohammed as defence minister in the previous French government, greeted him at the airport, the Saudi foreign ministry said on Twitter.
Saudi officials said separately that Prince Mohammed, who serves as defence minister and also controls economic and energy policy for the world’s top oil exporter, would head to Spain later in the week.
Macron faces a diplomatic tightrope in talks with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, set to focus on cultural ties and investments as well as the war in Yemen, dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and the kingdom’s arch-nemesis Iran.
After much speculation on the prince’s schedule, Macron’s office said he hosted a dinner for the 32-year-old prince at the historic museum.
The dinner, held behind a tight security cordon, sets the tone for the official part of the visit starting Monday, which follows a weeks-long tour of the United States, Britain and Egypt where he courted a host of multimillion dollar deals.
Around 18 memoranda of understanding in energy, agriculture, tourism and culture are set to be signed at an official Saudi-France CEO Forum on Tuesday, a source close to the crown prince’s delegation told AFP.
A Franco-Saudi deal to develop Al Ula, a Saudi city richly endowed with archeological remnants, is also set to be a central highlight of the visit, the source added.
The agreement calls for the creation of a dedicated agency modelled on the lines of the French museums agency, which spearheaded the setting up of the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi.
But in an apparent setback, the prince’s visit to the Paris-based tech start-up campus Station F, scheduled for Monday with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, was cancelled.
In another embarrassment, dozens of people staged a protest Sunday in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence, where the prince had previously been expected to attend a concert.
One picket sign read “Don’t sell arms to Saudi Arabia”, according to an AFP reporter
The Prince will meet French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.
On the agenda for his two-day stay in Paris are the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and the Iran nuclear deal. He will also attend cultural events and an economic forum.NAN