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Friday, September 08, 2006

French Bargaining Tactics with Riyadh

The appointment of Bruno Cotte as head of Sofresa, an official agency that sees to arms exports to Saudi Arabia, has altered the climate between Paris and Riyadh.

A good salesman - he previously served as director of Dassault Aviation’s international department - Bruno Cotte has proved to be a diplomat with a clear strategy in mind as well. In the space of a few months he managed to establish a direct tie between Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, crown prince Sultan, and president Jacques Chirac even though the latter had dealt exclusively in the past with king Abdallah.

Sultan’s visit to Paris in July, which led to a framework accord between France and Saudi Arabia, was followed by a trip to Jeddah by defense minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Sept. 3. In addition to political accords, the meeting resulted in Riyadh agreeing to buy around EUR2.5 billion worth of French armaments (Fennec and NH-90 helicopters made by Eurocopter and Airbus tanker aircraft). The contracts are to be finalized by the end of the year and further arms deals worth between EUR3 to 5 billion are expected to follow in 2007.

Instead of trying to negotiate a single huge arms package, Cotte opted for a one-by-one approach and making them appear as follow-ups to Franco-Saudi technical accords dating back to 1982. His strategy was dictated by France’s political calendar: he felt it necessary to lock in some contracts before France’s presidential election in May of next year. After that, the series of “small” packages will be followed in 2008 and onwards by bigger deals involving French Leclerc tanks, FREMM frigates, submarines and the Rafale fighter aircraft.

The Saudis will indicate in the next few weeks which of the larger programs interest them the most at present.
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