RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, (AP) – France’s president offered Saudi Arabia help in exploring a possible civilian nuclear energy program as the French leader began a visit to the oil-rich kingdom on Sunday.
President Nicolas Sarkozy and King Abdullah also signed agreements on oil and gas and political cooperation at the start of the visit. Sarkozy also intended to press the leader of the world’s top oil producer for lower prices of crude, which reached a record high of $100 a barrel this month, according to a French diplomat.
The Saudis want to buy more helicopters, ships, and submarines from the French as well as get help revamping border security systems. They also want to tap French expertise on railway construction as Saudi looks to build a TGV fast train link between the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as a subway in the capital Riyadh.
Sarkozy offered the king the services of France’s Atomic Energy Commission to explore the possibilities of a civil nuclear energy program in Saudi Arabia, the president’s office said.
The trip is Sarkozy’s third to the Middle East in three weeks and during a December visit to Egypt, Sarkozy also expressed France’s willingness to assist Egypt in the nuclear field.
France was to sign a nuclear cooperation accord with the United Arab Emirates during Sarkozy’s upcoming visit there Tuesday, the French leader told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat in an interview published last week.
The accord for cooperation in civilian nuclear activities, a first step toward building a nuclear reactor, would be the third France has signed recently with Arab nations, after Libya and Algeria.
“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, in full conformity with international security obligations,” Sarkozy told the London-based Al-Hayat.
Building nuclear reactors for civilian use for these countries would mean lucrative contracts for France, which generates most of its own electricity from nuclear power.
During his visit, Sarkozy planned to tell his hosts it was in the interest of both producers and consumers to lower the price of oil, a French diplomat said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.