JEDDAH: SIRAJ WAHAB | ARAB NEWS STAFF
Published — Tuesday 8 October 2013
Last update 8 November 2013 4:15 am
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated Monday that Riyadh and Paris share a common stance on Syria.
Speaking to a select group of journalists at the Royal Terminal in Jeddah on Monday, he said: “The shared French-Saudi approach is to strengthen and empower the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and Gen. Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army.”
Le Drian conveyed a message from President Francois Hollande to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah during his meeting with him.
France has emerged as a strong ally of Gulf countries in an altered geopolitical scenario. The exceptionally warm reception that Le Drian received in Jeddah was indicative of the special relationship between the two countries.
“I am overwhelmed by the warm response from the Saudi leadership,” he said. “This goes to prove the depth of our strategic relationship.”
The minister said France was providing political, military and humanitarian support to the SNC and Gen. Salim Idris. “Our support and approach was commended by the Saudi leadership and the Saudi people,” said Le Drian.
The minister said: “There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis, and everyone recognizes this fact, so parties will have to come to the negotiating table.”
He said that the chances of Geneva II succeeding seem bright. “We want to see the constitution of a transitional government during the Geneva II conference,” said Le Drian.
He said the unwavering French support to the Syrian National Coalition, including military hardware, is aimed at strengthening the SNC’s position at the bargaining table in Geneva. “The stronger it is, the better it will be during negotiations for a transitional government.”
He said efforts were being made to isolate extremist elements and armed militant groups in Syria. “The presence of armed extremists have complicated the situation and have actually benefited (Bashar) Assad,” he said.
Le Drian was blunt on the issue of Iran. “We have seen and heard the speech of (Iranian President) Hassan Rowhani. While all those words are nice to hear, everything will depend on what actions the Iranian leadership will take to de-escalate tension in the region,” he said. “Words, however conciliatory, mean nothing unless and until they are converted into actual deeds.”
The minister held wide-ranging talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, Crown Prince Salman, National Guard Minister Prince Miteb bin Abdullah and Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan during his daylong visit.
He said the Middle East peace process came under discussion during his talks with Crown Prince Salman. “We have to see to it that the peace process materializes,” he said.
Earlier, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Al-Hazzab, commander of the west zone, received Le Drian at King Abdul Aziz International Airport’s Royal Terminal.
French Ambassador Bertrand Besancenot was also present at the press conference.
Le Drian has been a frequent visitor to the region and has visited several countries in the Gulf.
France has a military base in the UAE, with about 500 personnel supporting naval, ground and air assets.