Valls tours Egypt, Jordan and Saudi for talks on contracts and IS group
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Prime Minister Manuel Valls begins a four-day tour Saturday that will take him from Egypt to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. France expects to sign trade deals in sectors including defence, energy, aerospace and food processing, with some contracts to be signed on the sidelines of a Franco-Saudi forum Tuesday involving some 200 French companies.
The visit is also an opportunity for France to address its commitment to fighting against the Islamic State group in Syria, which has been destabilising the region.
Saudi Arabia has recently shown an interest in purchasing Mistral warships, though no negotiations have been made. The kingdom is also interested in the purchase of military intelligence satellite equipment made by Thales Group.
France also hopes to sell two flagship Areva-designed EPR nuclear reactors to Saudi.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian are expected to join Valls in Riyadh for the event.
During the tour, Valls will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, King Abdullah in Amman and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef in Riyadh. It will be his longest trip since his appointment, and his first in the region.
Franco-Egyptian relations are experiencing a revival with the agreement last month for Cairo's purchase of two Mistral warships originally built for Russia.
The visit to Jordan, meanwhile, will be dominated by the theme of refugees, at a time when some 630,000 Syrians are living in a country with a population of 6.5 million. Valls will meet with members of UN agencies and NGOs.
The issue of human rights will be discussed in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where the death penalty is still applied. France will ask Riyadh to spare the life of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, a 21-year-old dissident who has been sentenced to death by hanging and crucifixion for demonstrating against the Saudi regime while he was a minor.