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Opinion: Saudi Arabia is the strategic choice | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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French President Francois Hollande (L) and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (2-R) arrive for a dinner at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, 01 September 2014. (EPA/Philippe Wojazer)

All the signs point to Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz’s visit to France being no ordinary visit. This can be seen in the warmth of the welcome French leaders extended to the Saudi Crown Prince, as well as the congested nature of his schedule over this four-day visit. More than this, there is the speech given by French President François Hollande welcoming the Crown Prince to the Élysée Palace.

I asked a well-informed French official whether this warm welcome was part of the usual French diplomatic protocol for a visiting leader. He answered: “No, this represents strong attention and welcome.” He added: “The French view of Saudi Arabia now is that Riyadh is a center of stability and an important state for the stability of the region as a whole, particularly after what has happened in the region over the past three years.”

Regional issues, from the Palestinian cause to the events in Iraq and Syria, as well as what is happening in Lebanon and Yemen, are of great concern to the French. This is not to mention the greatest threat to the region, terrorism. All these issues have, of course, formed the subject of discussion during the Crown Prince’s current visit to France.

So there are clear reasons for the French attention to Crown Prince Salman. Most prominently, this is because Saudi Arabia has clear positions towards the regional crises. In his speech at the Élysée Palace, Crown Prince Salman said: “Unfortunately, the region has been going through successive crises which have affected regional and international peace and stability.”

France also has clear and unequivocal positions on all these crises. The French vision on how to deal with these crises roughly corresponds to Saudi Arabia’s. As I said earlier, one of the most dangerous issues facing the region, and in fact the international community, is terrorism. Saudi Arabia has worked hard to confront this phenomenon, both ideologically and via its own security apparatus. Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz has called on the international community, on numerous occasions, to work together to combat terrorism. He also called for the establishment of an international center to combat terrorism, and has donated some 100 million US dollars towards this end.

What is certain is that it will take real and effective international effort to combat terrorism, whether we are talking about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, the Assad regime, or the region’s Shi’ite militias. We also need to confront the causes of terrorism, not to mention effectively and jointly confronting the Syrian crisis.

What I have heard from French officials demonstrates the staunchness of the French position towards the Syrian crisis. One French official told me: “We cannot accept the choice that it is either Assad or terrorism.” This, of course, is the correct position, particularly when it is Assad’s very presence that is responsible for this rise in terrorism by groups like ISIS, while Assad’s own policies in Syria can only be described as terrorism.

It is therefore important that we promote this staunch and decisive position on Assad among the wider international community. We must all understand that further delay in confronting the Syrian crisis will only lead to more regional crises while also exacerbating and further complicating the Syrian crisis itself.

So, Crown Prince Salman’s visit to France confirms that Saudi Arabia is the strategic ally of choice for any country that wants to safeguard the region’s security and stability.