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Business

Paris and Riyadh sign multibillion dollar deals

In a sign of intensifying economic and political ties between the two countries, France and Saudi Arabia have signed a number of agreements covering a wide range of sectors and worth billions of US dollars.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday announced a series of deals worth a total of 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) during a visit to Riyadh. The premier is on a regional tour which earlier took him to Jordan and Egypt.

The deals include contracts and letters of intent between the two countries, and they cover energy, health, food, satellites and infrastructure, according to the prime minister's office.

There were, however, few significant details immediately available on the deals, though one of the agreements was a Saudi order for 30 patrol boats.

PM Valls' office said additional negotiations had begun for potential agreements in telecommunications and surveillance satellites.

A French official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the media, says that a military helicopter deal is also expected to be signed in Riyadh.

Boosting cooperation

The announcement comes amid strengthening bilateral economic and political relations. Valls' trip is the third high-level visit by French officials this year to the world's biggest oil exporter and the Arab world's largest economy.

French President Francois Hollande also visited Riyadh in January to pay his respects after the death of king Abdullah. The French leader again returned in May to become the first Western leader to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit.

The order for patrol boats is the latest in a series of weapons deals Paris has made in the region this year. On Saturday, Egypt signed a deal with France to buy two Mistral warships originally ordered by Russia.

According to French government sources, Egypt will pay 950 million euros, with "significant" financing from Saudi Arabia. France this year also sold 24 of its Rafale warplanes to Egypt and Qatar.

For Saudi Arabia, scaling up ties with France are part of an effort to build alliances beyond its traditional defense partner the United States, as ties between Washington and Riyadh cooled under US President Barack Obama.

sri/uhe (AFP, AP)

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