MADRID (AFP) – Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Spanish host King Juan Carlos on Tuesday jointly presented an infrastructure and energy fund worth one billion dollars (1.2 billion euros), rising to a potential five billion, diplomatic sources said.
Both countries signalled they were using the first official visit by a Saudi head of state to Spain since 1980 to unveil the fund as the monarchs met at the Pardo palace in Madrid.
The fund is designed to bolster economic relations and finance joint development of infrastructure and energy projects, as well as technology and tourism, according to Spain’s Confederation of Employers and Industries (CEOE).
The creation of the fund was first mooted in April last year when Juan Carlos visited Saudi Arabia.
Attending Tuesday’s launch of the fund were Spanish Industry Minister Joan Clos and Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim ben Abdul Aziz Al-Assaf, as well as CEOE chairman Gerardo Diaz Ferran.
Also Tuesday, Juan Carlos bestowed on King Abdullah Spain’s highest distinction, the Order of the Golden Fleece, while Madrid’s Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon handed the Saudi king the golden keys to the city.
The capital was founded during almost 800 years of Spanish Muslim rule to 1492.
The Golden Fleece award promptly caused political consternation with a spokesman for the pro-Communist opposition group United Left dubbing it an “insult to democrats,” charging that Saudi Arabia “does not respect basic human rights,” particularly those of women.
On the sidelines of the monarchs’ meeting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and visiting Saudi counterpart Prince Saud Al Faisal said in a statement that “everything possible must be done” to aid the cause of moderate Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The Europa Press news agency quoted Al Faisal as saying Riyadh wanted to see “moderation and a rejection of violence in all its forms.”
Adbullah, who was later to dine with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, will leave Spain on Wednesday and head for France as he continues his week-long visit to Europe which will also take in Poland.
On Thursday, Abdullah is due in France for a visit which will precede a Paris conference aimed at ending the political deadlock in Lebanon, a former French protectorate.
He will then head to Poland on Sunday before leaving for Egypt and Jordan between early next week, according to Saudi diplomatic sources.