French minister Hélène Conway-Mouret, who wrapped up a two-day visit to the Kingdom, Monday said Haj operations in Paris had been streamlined to enable pilgrims to experience a hassle-free journey through their agents in France.
Mouret said she held discussions on the welfare program of French Haj pilgrims.
French Ambassador Bertrand Besancenot was also present at the press briefing held at the French Embassy in Riyadh.
The minister, who met with senior Haj officials in Jeddah, pointed out that around 30,000 French pilgrims come for Haj every year and another 19,000 come for Umrah throughout the year.
The visiting minister, who met Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, said she also discussed a number of regional issues, including the Syrian problem and the Iranian’s nuclear program. Iran has opened its doors for dialogue, but that is not enough, she said, adding: “It has to show intentions in actions.”
In Riyadh, she held talks with Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Salem, undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior, and discussed ways of enhancing bilateral cooperation in various fields between the two countries, especially in the field of security and issues concerning French citizens in the Kingdom.
Mouret commended the care provided by the Saudi government for the French community in the Kingdom. There are some 6,000 French expatriates living in various parts of the Kingdom. “There are some people who have stayed here for decades and this indicates their love for the host country.”
Al-Salem stressed the keenness of the government of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries and lauded the contribution of the French community in strengthening the bonds of the Saudi-French friendship.
The minister, who also met Saudi businessmen in Riyadh during her brief visit, said that there were ample opportunities for French businesses in the Kingdom. She said that businessmen told her that although French goods are very popular among consumers, there was need for better marketing of French products in the Kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is an important trade partner for France and we hope to strengthen our bilateral trade for the benefit of the two countries,” she said.
In Jeddah, she launched the new Alliance Francaise d’Arabie Saoudite (AFAS) at the Jamjoom Center on Sunday in the presence of AFAS Vice President Redha Al-Kazim, French Ambassador Besancenot and French Consul General Louis Blin.
The AFAS is a nonprofit organization set up in 2010 under the sponsorship of the French Embassy. It has three centers in Riyadh (2011), Alkhobar (2012) and Jeddah (2013). The three centers currently host 2,500 students.
The Alliance Francaise is a unique cultural network in the world that has been present since 1883, with 1,040 centers in 136 countries. “The Jeddah center is the 1,041st in the world,” Mouret said, adding that the proximity of Jeddah to Makkah and Madinah and the importance of Jeddah to Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean states made the city a strategic point in the region.
She also said that there were some 1,400 Saudi students currently studying in various universities in France. “We hope to attract more Saudi students to Paris for their higher studies,” she added.