Cablegate: Sarkozy in Saudi Arabia
OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHPW RUEHROV
DE RUEHRH #0102/01 0261136
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 261136Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY RIYADH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7463
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
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RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH IMMEDIATE 9347
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 000102
EO 12958 DECL: 01/26/2018
TAGS FR, PGOV, PINR, PREL, SA
SUBJECT: SARKOZY IN SAUDI ARABIA
REF: RIYADH 0037
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires David Rundell for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s visited Saudi Arabia on January 13-14 to make clear that Saudi Arabia is now “at the top” of the French Middle East policy list. Pres. Sarkozy met with Saudi King Abdullah, addressed the Shura council and spoke briefly with Saudi business leaders. Topics discussed were Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Mid East Peace Process, Syrian meddling in Lebanon, security in Iraq, and French-Saudi cooperation, including the offer of nuclear energy technology. The visit can be viewed as a moderate success for French-Saudi bilateral relations, although no major announcements were made. Press reports of the visit along with a private readout by the French DCM were positive, but our Saudi contacts passed on certain displeasure with the French’s conduct. END SUMMARY.
2. (S/NF) French President Nicholas Sarkozy arrived in Riyadh on January 13 for a one night/two day visit. This visit was a follow up to Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Paris in June 2007. Pres Sarkozy was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Defense Hevre Morin, Minister of Justice Rachida Dati, Minister of Culture Christine Albanel and Minister of Education Valerie Pecresse. French DCM in Riyadh Emmanuel Bonne provided a private readout to Acting Pol Counselor of this visit. Topics raised included Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Mid East Peace Process, Syrian meddling in Lebanon, security in Iraq, and French-Saudi cooperation, including the offer of nuclear energy technology. Additionally, the main theme was to foster a stronger personal relationship between Pres Sarkozy and King Abdullah. Overall, King Abdullah emphasized multilateral solutions, vice bilateral approaches, regarding the multitude of issues discussed. Readouts from the French and the press were positive, but our Saudi contacts privately shared displeasure with certain French conduct.
3. (S/NF) Pres Sarkozy reiterated his strong concern with Iran’s nuclear ambitions to King Abdullah, asserting sanctions were the best way to put pressure on Iran. Abdullah reportedly does not want to inflame the situation and recommended continued international engagement (P-5 plus Germany) with Iran. He emphasized that Iran must abide by its international obligations, specifically the Non-Proliferation treaty. Abdullah reportedly concurred, noting Iran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq and Lebanon, along with Saudi belief that Iran’s ultimate goal is to acquire nuclear weapons. However, the Saudis are not yet ready to take any action beyond diplomacy at this point and assured their commitment to French efforts for a diplomatic solution with Iran. King Abdullah stated that Iran knows its obligations and the next step is for the Iranians to comply. The French had hoped to make a joint communiqu on Iran, but the Saudis declined because they do not want to aggravate the Iranian situation. COMMENT: It was not made clear just how the proposed communiqu would have aggravated Saudi-Iranian relations. END COMMENT.
4. (S/NF) Both Pres Sarkozy and King Abdullah agreed to support the Annapolis initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abdullah told Sarkozy that the issue of Palestinian refugees must first be resolved and that the Israelis must cease all West Bank settlement construction. Abdullah maintained that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a Palestinian state and that this section of Jerusalem must be solely under Arab control. The French had hoped to issue a joint communiqu on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, but no consensus could be reached.
5. (S/NF) The issue of Lebanon was raised by Pres Sarkozy. Abdullah cautioned that everyone should be very cautious in speaking with the Syrians, implying their duplicity. He added the French “should be firm” with Syria in regards to
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Lebanon. In a separate meeting between French FM Bernard Kouchner and Saudi FM Saud al Faisal, the French supported the Arab initiative on Lebanon. Saud added he was skeptical of the current Lebanese political parties and doubted the Syrians would comply with any accord.
6. (S/NF) Regarding Iraq, both Pres Sarkozy and King Abdullah concurred that Iraq’s security had dramatically improved since 2006. Abdullah reportedly opined that Iraq must remained a unified state, and that external players, such as Iran, must be dissuaded from interfering.
7. (S/NF) General energy policy was discussed, including gas, oil and nuclear power. Pres Sarkozy made an offer to provide civilian nuclear energy technology (Reftel) to the kingdom. King Abdullah was receptive to the offer, but no firm agreement was made.
8. (S/NF) In his speech to the Shura Council (Septel) on January 14, Pres Sarkozy espoused tolerance of different religious faiths, women’s rights, and freedom of expression. His speech barely mentioned political issues and instead focused on a “civilization policy” - respect and dignity for all cultures. While some of these themes are at odds with traditional Saudi society, Emb Off present at this event reported that Sarkozy was well-received.
9. (S/NF) The French delegation included various Ministers to strengthen educational, commercial and energy ties with the kingdom. Four cooperative agreements were made: 1) political consultations to coordinate regional activities; 2) energy policy regarding gas and oil; 3) vocational language training increase from 100 to 500 students to help overcome the French-Arabic language barrier; and 4) higher education with the goal to increase the number of Saudi students in France (currently 4000). Pres Sarkozy had a brief (10-minute) presentation to Saudi business leaders.
10. (S/NF) The overarching theme of the visit, according to French Embassy Riyadh, was to strengthen the personal relationship between Pres Sarkozy and King Abdullah. Former Pres Jacques Chirac and King Abdullah had a strong friendship with agreement on a host of issues. Reportedly, the Saudis were concerned by Sarkozy’s election last year because of his expressed support of Israel and Jewish background. This visit was to dispel Saudi concerns and to assure the Saudis that Pres Sarkozy could be counted on as strongly as Pres Chirac. Likewise, the French told us they are modifying their Mid East policy. The Levant states have been France’s top Mid East focus, while the Arabian Gulf had been at the “bottom of the list.” Recognition of Saudi Arabia’s emerging influence and status has resulted in the French putting Saudi Arabia “at the top” of the French foreign policy Middle East list.
GOOD VISIT, BUT NOT GREAT
11. (S/NF) COMMENT. Per the French DCM, they were quite pleased with Pres Sarkozy’s visit. They were disappointed they could not issue any joint communiqus on any major issues, such as Iran or the MEPP. Still, they viewed the reciprocal state visits were steps forward in French-Saudi relations. Press coverage of Pres Sarkozy was positive with front page newspaper pictures of both leaders smiling together.
12. (S/NF) However, our Saudi contacts provided some negative
comments. Minor in substance, but significant to Saudi sensibilities. Initially, Sarkozy’s fiance Carla Bruni was expected to accompany him (but finally did not travel), which the Saudis found offensive given their strict, conservative culture against the company of an unmarried woman. Various protocol faux pas were committed by the French delegation during the visit. The French advance made, in Saudi opinion, unreasonable logistical demands. Finally, Pres Sarkozy was viewed as less than gracious, in Saudi eyes, during certain events, such as avoiding tasting traditional Arab foods and a bored look during the televised arrival sword ceremony. While these are minor points, the fact our Saudi contacts mentioned them shows their discontent. These incidents
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characterized one overarching private comment from the Saudis, that Pres Sarkozy has not replaced Pres Chirac in Saudi eyes. Other usually well-informed Saudi contacts have lamented the overtly commercial nature of the visit. Sarkozy reportedly presented a list of fourteen (14) sales that French firms would like to make to the Saudi government, complete with the original price and discounts that Sarkozy was prepared to negotiate. END COMMENT. FRAKER