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MENAFN - Arab News - 05/11/2012

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(MENAFN - Arab News) Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and French President Franois Hollande met briefly yesterday to discuss an agreement to support the Syrian opposition to topple President Bashar Assad.

"We hope that the opposition in Syria forms the transition government the soonest," Hollande said at a press conference held at King Abdulaziz International Airport. "They must make sure that the government is chosen in a democratic way to avoid chaos later. The opposition must organize themselves and to gain legitimacy. And we are looking at what's happening with great concern."

Hollande's visit to Jeddah, which lasted for about four hours, followed a similar meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in Beirut earlier yesterday.

In Beirut, Hollande assured Suleiman that "France will spare no effort to guarantee Lebanon's independence, unity and security" and that France will "oppose with all its strength any bid to destabilize."

Security and stability of the region as Syria's civil war continues was the primary theme of Hollande's short Middle East tour. The timing of his visit to Saudi Arabia is particularly vital as Lebanon reels from the impact of the Syrian conflict and the intentions of Iran's nuclear program.

"We agreed that Iran's ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon are a threat to all the world," Hollande told reporters. "We agreed that sanctions need to be imposed to prevent them from acquiring such a weapon. We still believe in conducting dialogue with Iran if they prove to be honest."

He added that the French government appreciates "the Kingdom's understanding to the fact that the sanctions on the Iranian oil affected the global market."

Hollande said his goal was to create a "personal relation" with King Abdullah to discuss a wide range of issues, including their interest in providing aid to Syrian refugees.

The president also cautioned that the Syrian crisis cannot be compared to uprisings that occurred in other Middle East and North African countries. He said assistance for opposition forces in Libya was reached through international consensus, while there were "many vetoes" from the United Nations Security Council in attempting to bring aid to Syria. He also alluded to the uncertain nature of arming the opposition forces.

"Handing weapons to the (Syrian) opposition needs international 'will,' " he said. "We need to make sure that these weapons are used in the right way in the future."

There was little discussion about economic issues between France and Saudi Arabia. Hollande promised to return to Saudi Arabia for more discussions with King Abdullah about regional issues. "I will have another visit in 2013 which will be longer and I'll discuss all economic and military cooperation between the two nations."

Saudi Arabia is a vital trading partner of France. Trade between the two countries grew by 17 percent by 2011 and totaled 7.69 billion euros, up from 6.58 billion euros in 2010. The Kingdom accounts for 98 percent of all of France's petroleum products and petrochemicals imports.

However, France's exports to the Kingdom dropped 21.2 percent in 2011, mainly due to fall in aircraft sales.

France's exports of aircraft and pharmaceutical products alone constituted 50 percent of French sales to Saudi Arabia in 2010.


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