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Hollande: Assad must go

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and visiting French President Francois Hollande discussed at length key regional issues, including Syria, Iran and Lebanon, at Khuraim Gardens on Sunday.
Hollande, who held a separate meeting with Crown Prince Salman, also met with former Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri and Syrian opposition leader, Ahmed Jarba, in Riyadh.
Renewing his call for an immediate solution to the Syrian crisis, Hollande said there could not be a solution with Assad staying in power. “The participation of the opposition in the proposed peace conference in Switzerland on Jan. 22 is desirable.”
Addressing a press conference at the French Embassy, Hollande said the talks also covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the volatile situation in Egypt and the growing commercial ties between Riyadh and Paris.
Hollande commended the king “for his endeavors and for his untiring efforts to solve the problems facing friendly nations and allies in the Middle East, including Syria.
“We are engaged with Saudi Arabia in several sectors ranging from politics, regional issues and international affairs, to energy and transport.”
He pointed out that an agreement to forge closer cooperation in the health sector, mainly in medical research and pharmaceuticals, was signed Sunday.
Hollande said: “France and Saudi Arabia share a pledge to work for peace, security and stability in the Middle East.” This pledge is evident from Hollande’s meeting with Hariri, a staunch critic of the Syrian regime.
The meeting is important, as it comes amid heightened tensions in Lebanon following the killing of Hariri’s close aide, ex-minister Mohammad Chatah, on Friday.
“France and Saudi Arabia will extend support to Lebanon,” he added. He said Paris shouldered its way into negotiations with Iran, demanding a better deal and warning that the Tehran government needed “careful monitoring.”
About Egypt, he said: “The transition of power will take place through elections.”
Hollande said Saudi Arabia has become France’s “top partner in the Middle East” with trade exchange exceeding $11 billion in 2013. He noted “good results” in commercial relations, citing contracts won by French companies, including Alstom winning the Riyadh metro contract.
A team of four ministers accompanying Hollande, including Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, also attended the meeting.

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