Tuesday, 15 January 2008
It would be difficult to argue that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to the Kingdom was not in almost every way a success. Before embarking, Sarkozy told Al Hayat, "The interest of this trip is political, economic, cultural and military." And he has come away with agreements that involve education, vocational training, oil and gas and political cooperation and outlines for infrastructure and bilateral contracts.
In return, Sarkozy proposed the nearly unthinkable given the rhetoric flying around the region these days: he will send a team from the French Atomic Energy Commission to Saudi Arabia in the near future to work on the question of civilian nuclear energy.
"I have often said that the Muslim world is no less reasonable than the rest of the world in seeking civilian nuclear power for its energy needs," Sarkozy said in an interview prior to his visit. And he's putting his money where his mouth is.
Sarkozy has said that France is a friend who will not lecture but will tell the absolute truth, and he seems to have followed up on that. He praised advances in the Kingdom in terms of freedom of speech and the treatment of women. And he, again, pledged solidarity with the Arab League's proposals to end the strife in Lebanon.
It's refreshing to see a Western leader come to the Kingdom speaking of peace rather than just issuing warnings on the state of affairs in the region. His emphasis, was on issues that would serve to strengthen the Kingdom's economy and lend it the tools to integrate itself more fully in the world economy and culture.
It feels as if the Kingdom has a true ally in France.