A busy agenda for the Saudi crown prince in Paris
The visit of the Saudi crown prince to Paris, where he will stay for several days, is an important event. Mohammed bin Salman is engaged in a process that establishes him as a significant player in international affairs. The opportunity for this trip is provided by the circumstances of the diplomatic agenda.
There will be successive meetings in Paris next week: on Monday, the committee responsible for collecting candidacies for the 2030 World Expo, and on Thursday and Friday, the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact organized by the French president.
According to Riyadh, the crown prince, who is coming to personally participate in these two meetings, intends to multiply contacts with representatives of the countries present. He is accompanied by most of his ministers. Therefore, this is a major and unprecedented political communication operation for Saudi Arabia, with two priorities.
First, the crown prince aims to mobilize all his networks to promote Saudi Arabia's candidacy for hosting the 2030 World Expo, which he strongly supports. In connection with his Vision 2030 economic modernization program, it would be a unique opportunity for the Saudi monarchy to showcase, in front of the world’s media, the successful transformation of Saudi Arabia into a leading global player. This is the priority of Saudi diplomacy during this visit to Paris.
This Summit for a New Global Financial Pact is both a decisive challenge for the ecological transition and a rather difficult bet. Nevertheless, the crown prince does not overlook the French proposal for a global financial pact. The idea emerged during COP27 at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt last autumn, when the main obstacle to the commitment of many countries to ecological transition and biodiversity preservation was the cost of this policy for poor or emerging countries, and the insufficiency of financing promises made by wealthy countries.
For France, Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the Middle East.
Hervé de Charette
This Summit for a New Global Financial Pact aims to solve this equation. It is both a decisive challenge for the ecological transition and a rather difficult bet. Saudi Arabia, which has significant financial resources, cannot stay out of it, especially since the COP28 will be held in Dubai next autumn, hosted by UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
It is therefore an important week for Saudi Arabia, which began with a working lunch on Friday at the Élysée Palace at the invitation of Emmanuel Macron. The two men now know each other well. The French president will surely commit to assisting his Saudi guest in achieving the mentioned goals.
For France, Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the Middle East. In the immediate regional context, the topic that draws attention in Paris is the election of a president for Lebanon, a position vacant since the end of Michel Aoun's term seven months ago. In recent weeks, negotiations have evolved. A duel has emerged between two Christians: Sleiman Frangieh, pro-Hezbollah and a childhood friend of Bashar Assad, initially supported by France; and Jihad Azour, former finance minister and IMF official, supported by the Maronite patriarch, Bechara Boutros Rahi, and a large part of the Christian community — which, for the first time in a long time, seemed to be uniting.
However, in parliament, Azour, despite winning most votes, did not obtain the required majority, and Hezbollah has stated that it opposes his candidacy, which it sees as confrontational. This means that, for the moment, the horizon is clouded. The two heads of state will therefore have to seek a new solution to a crisis that has lasted for far too long.
Macron will surely want to discuss Ukraine. The Gulf countries’ conciliatory position towards Russia is well known. The French president will be able to argue that this attitude, far from reducing international tension as the Arab world had suggested, on the contrary, encourages Moscow to continue the war. This war, by causing a global economic downturn, is in complete opposition to the interests and objectives of the Gulf countries. Will he be heard? It may not be as improbable as some say.
There are surely many other possible topics of conversation between the two men. There is at least one that is mentioned here, even if they don’t discuss it themselves: the possibility of developing civil nuclear power in Saudi Arabia. After the agreement reached with Tehran, Riyadh may want to balance its position regarding Iran in the nuclear field. A step in this direction would be to acquire the expertise and knowledge in the field of civil nuclear power. Now, that’s a subject that would create a stir...
• Hervé de Charette is a former French Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Minister of Housing. He has also been mayor of Saint-Florent-le-Vieil and deputy for the Maine-et-Loire department.