Saudi Arabia and France signed 20 economic deals worth more than $18 billion, Al Arabiya TV said yesterday as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman visits Paris.
The Saudi channel did not specify whether the agreements were full contracts or memorandums of understanding, Reuters reported, however it is thought that arms sales were amongst the deals signs.
State oil giant Saudi Aramco earlier announced deals with major French companies including Total, Technip and Suez.
In a press conference with Bin Salman, President Emmanuel Macron defended French weapons sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, but said he was concerned by the humanitarian situation and would host a conference on the issue before the summer.
Pressure has been mounting on Macron to scale back arms support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which are leading the coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa.
The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than three million, with no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough to ease the crisis.
Seventy-five per cent of French people want Macron to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a YouGov poll found. Several rights groups also have warned of possible legal action if the government does not halt its sales.
“Since the start of the conflict in Yemen, France has adopted a very specific process whereby all sales of military equipment are analysed on a case-by-case basis and on the basis of reinforced criteria that reflect respect for international humanitarian law and the risk of harm to civilian populations,” Macron said.
France is the world’s third biggest arms exporter and counts the two countries among its biggest purchasers.
“France’s position is clear: full support for the security of Saudi Arabia, condemnation of the ballistic activity coming from the Houthis, willingness to find a political solution to the conflict and strong humanitarian demands on civilian populations,” Macron said.
A Yemeni rights group on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Prince Mohammed in France, accusing him of complicity in torture and inhumane treatment in Yemen, lawyers said.
When asked about civilian casualties, Prince Mohammed said his country was working to modernise its rules of engagement to avoid civilian casualties, but said that in “military operations throughout history, whatever the country, there were mistakes.”