Saudi crown prince visits France to share his 'new vision'


Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday pulled out of touring a mega-campus for tech startups in Paris, an official in the French prime minister's office said, a visit that was meant to highlight deepening Franco-Saudi tech ties.

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and Emmanuel Macron during their meeting in Paris on Sunday.

As many as 18 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in energy, agriculture, tourism and culture are set to be signed at an official Saudi-France CEO Forum on Tuesday, a source close to the crown prince's delegation told AFP.

Saudi Arabia is seeking to shed its austere image as part of reforms initiated by Prince Mohammed to end the kingdom's reliance on oil revenue and attract foreign investment.

The dinner, which had not been listed on the president's official agenda, was held shortly after the prince arrived in Paris on the latest stage of his weeks-long charm offensive that has so far taken him to the United States, Britain and Egypt.

On Tuesday, the crown prince will meet with Macron at the Élysée Palace, when the two men are expected to discuss a range of issues, including Syria, the war in Yemen and Iranian influence in the region.

The prince has used his global tour to project his reforms - including the historic lifting of a ban on women driving, cinemas and mixed-gender concerts - as part of his pledge to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is seen during his visit to Lockheed Martin company in U.S. on April 6, 2018.

The visit comes amid growing pressure on Macron at home from lawmakers and rights groups over France's weapons sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

"This is a signal both to domestic as well as global observers that he is in charge and can leave the country for several weeks without any challenge to his authority", he added.

The powerful young prince who is behind modernising reforms in Saudi Arabia is on a three-day trip to France at a time when relations between the two countries have become more complicated, including over how to address Iran's regional role. "They are both young, visionary and ambitious".

Macron invited Hariri to Paris for talks and he has since rescinded his resignation, a development that analysts say exposed the limits of the prince's authority.

The challenge for Macron is to convince the crown prince that "it is better to have the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran than no deal at all", Denis Bauchard, of the French Institute of International Relations, told AFP.

The crown prince has emphasised closer ties with US President Donald Trump just as Macron has sought to improve relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia's arch-nemesis.