(photo credit: AP)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened a three-country Mideast tour Sunday in Saudi Arabia where he was expected to discuss rising oil prices with the world's top producer.
King Abdallah greeted Sarkozy at the airport. The two were holding talks and having dinner before the signing of four bilateral accords.
France will, meanwhile, sign a nuclear cooperation accord with the United Arab Emirates during Sarkozy's visit there Tuesday, the French leader told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat in an interview published Sunday.
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.
Starting his third trip to the region in three weeks, Sarkozy was also visiting Qatar.
"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.
During a December visit to Egypt, Sarkozy expressed France's willingness to assist Egypt in the nuclear field.
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. However, such contracts also send a message to Iran that rewards nations which respect international rules and norms.
The Iranian nuclear dispute with the international community was among the topics on Sarkozy's agenda during his three-day trip. The threat of terrorism and the war in Iraq also were to be among topics, Sarkozy's office said. The president reiterated in the Al-Hayat interview France's offer to hold an inter-Iraqi conference with all parties represented, on the model of the July meeting in France of Lebanese politicians.
Energy, though not a nuclear accord, was on the agenda in Riyadh. He was to tell his hosts that "the interest of oil producers, like consumers, is to lower" the price of oil, a French diplomat said. He was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition he not be identified by name. Oil prices have reached $100 a barrel this month.
The French president was to take on another delicate subject, the role of religion, in an address Monday to Saudi Arabia's Consultative Council. The Majlis al-Shura, an all-male group that proposes laws in the kingdom, follows a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.
Sarkozy then travels to Doha, Qatar before heading to Abu Dhabi. Military cooperation was on the agenda in both capitals.
Sarkozy was shadowing US President George W. Bush, who is on an eight-day trip through the region. Bush was to arrive in Saudi Arabia shortly after Sarkozy's departure. The US leader was in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, and used the visit to lash out at Iran, calling it "the world's leading state sponsor of terror."