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The New Arab

Saudi royal to boost French ties on official visit

Saudi-French relations have heightened under Hollande's leadership [AFP]

Date of publication: 24 June, 2016

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Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will meet with French politicians on an official visit to Paris to strengthen ties between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince is expected to arrive in the French capital next week to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Mohammed bin Salman, 30, will meet with President Francois Hollande on Monday "to underline and deepen the excellence of the global French-Saudi strategic partnership," the French embassy in Riyadh said in a statement.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls will be among the other French politicians to meet the Saudi royal to consider "new perspectives of cooperation in the framework of the National Transformation Programme", the embassy added on Thursday.

"Major regional issues will also be touched upon."

On Tuesday, Prince Salman will also co-host the third Saudi-French joint committee with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault as Riyadh continues to venture into new partnerships to counter Washington’s recent companionship with Iran.

In April, the young Prince unveiled bold plans for broad economic reforms seeking to move the country away from oil dependency.

Dubbed "Vision 2030," the long term economic plan was presented by Mohammed bin Salman, second in line to the throne and son of current Saudi King Salman.

The long-term reform plan also marks the beginning of a hugely ambitious attempt to move Saudi Arabia beyond oil, the backbone of its economy for decades.

"Vision 2030" seeks to create the world's largest sovereign investment fund and sell shares in state energy giant Aramco.

"This is not a dream. This is a reality that will be achieved, God willing," Mohammed bin Salman told reporters, many of them invited from around the world.

Although it comes against a steep fall in oil prices, the plan "was not created only" to face that challenge.

"We have all developed an oil addiction in Saudi Arabia and this is dangerous and has hampered development in many sectors during past years," he said.

The reform programme aims to propel the kingdom from its ranking as the world's 19th largest economy to the top 15.

Under the plan, the share of non-oil exports will rise from 16 percent to 50 percent of non-oil Gross Domestic Product.

For decades, Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the Arab world, enjoyed a windfall from its massive and easily exploitable oil reserves.

Flush with oil revenues, the nation has built up enormous fiscal reserves and provided its 21 million citizens with a generous system of public employment, welfare benefits and subsidised utilities.

France – which is the third biggest investor in the kingdom – announced agreements worth 10 billion euros ($11 billion) in a range of sectors last October.

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