PARIS (Reuters) - Saudi Aramco will sign eight deals worth $10 billion with French firms on Tuesday, the chief executive of the state-run oil giant said on Monday - the main contracts expected to be sealed during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to France.
The powerful young prince who is behind modernising reforms in Saudi Arabia is on a three-day trip at a time when relations between the two countries have become more complicated, including over how to address Iran’s role in the region.
Amin Nasser told Saudi-run Al Arabiya TV on Monday that his company would finalise the accords on Tuesday. A Saudi-France economic forum is due to take place on Tuesday with an official signing ceremony in the afternoon.
Aramco and French oil major Total plan to sign an agreement to expand their joint venture refinery in Saudi Arabia, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on April 5.
Total declined to comment and Aramco did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The prince is not due to sign mega-contracts in France as he did in the United States and Britain in the past month. A French presidency statement said the two leaders would work on a strategic document that would lead to contracts by the year’s end, when Macron travels to Saudi Arabia.
French officials dismiss suggestions that the lack of lucrative accords reflects a weakening in the relationship. They say a new “method” of working together does not depend on eye-catching new business.
They will also formally agree on Tuesday to cooperate on a massive tourism project that showcases Saudi history, part of the prince’s efforts to wean the country off a dependency on oil exports, open up its society and push social reform.
The two countries also said the Paris National Opera would help the kingdom develop a national orchestra.
Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad said the kingdom would officially participate for the first time in the Cannes Film Festival next month, with nine short films.
Prince Mohammed on Monday pulled out of touring a mega-campus for tech startups in Paris, an official in the French prime minister’s office said - a visit that was meant to highlight deepening Franco-Saudi technology ties.
Prince Mohammed, 32, and President Emmanuel Macron, 40, both paint themselves as champions of their nations’ plugged-in younger generation.
The prince’s decision to skip a visit to Station F, Europe’s largest start-up incubator, founded by billionaire Xavier Neil, is likely to disappoint Macron, especially after the crown prince met technology titans in Silicon Valley last week.
France nurtured closer ties with the Sunni-ruled kingdom under president Francois Hollande, who was tough on Iran in nuclear negotiations and whose policies on conflicts across the Middle East broadly overlapped with Saudi positions.
However, Hollande’s successor has sometimes viewed Prince Mohammed’s uncompromising efforts to counter Iran’s growing regional influence as counter-productive, diplomats say.
“The president speaks to everyone, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Qatar....” the French presidency said in a statement after the two dined on Sunday night at the Louvre museum.
Reporting by Marine Pennetier and John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey