France said it would look into building two nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, as part of some $12 billion in deals announced Wednesday with the conservative kingdom.
Under one of the agreements Airbus will sell 23 H-145 multi-purpose helicopters to Saudi Arabia for $559 million as well as launch a feasibility study into building the nuclear reactors, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
A slew of deals worth billions of dollars were announced following the first “Franco-Saudi Joint Commission” meeting in Paris, led by Fabius and Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
Fabius also mentioned the Saudi Arabian Airlines order for 50 Airbus passenger planes valued at $8 billion, first announced at last week’s Paris Air Show.
The study for two European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) — which France considers the safest and most advanced in the world — takes on added significance given the current efforts by Saudi Arabia’s rival, Iran, to develop its own nuclear capabilities.
In addition to the study, France will sign an agreement to train the Saudis on nuclear safety and the treatment of nuclear waste.
Fabius also announced a “commitment” from Saudi Arabia to acquire about 30 patrol boats for its navy.
“It represents the creation of many jobs and hundreds of millions of euros,” Fabius added.
France has been reinforcing links with the conservative kingdom despite persistent criticism of its human rights record, while Riyadh is keen to broaden its ties with Western powers beyond its traditional alliance with the United States.
Salman was set to meet French President Francois Hollande later on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia has been under international pressure, including from Washington and Paris, to drop a sentence of 1,000 lashes for a renowned human rights activist and blogger.
The kingdom has also faced criticism over its use of the death penalty. According to an AFP count, Saudi Arabia executed 102 locals and foreigners in the year to mid-June, compared with 87 during all of 2014.
Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has confirmed death sentences for two suspected Saudi Al-Qaeda members convicted of murdering four Frenchmen in 2007, according to press reports.
The pair were convicted of shooting dead the French nationals — one of whom was a teenager — near the western city of Medina while they were on a desert excursion from their homes in the capital Riyadh.