France, Saudi agree to back Syria opposition: Minister

AFP , Monday 7 Oct 2013

France is negotiating large defence contracts with the oil-rich kingdom

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that his country and Saudi Arabia agree on the need to strengthen the Syrian opposition and rebel forces.

"Our approach to the situation is identical," Le Drian told reporters in Jeddah, following talks with Saudi officials, including King Abdullah.

"We believe in strengthening the Syrian National Coalition and the general staff of general (Selim) Idriss," the chief of staff in the rebel Free Syrian Army, said Le Drian.

"The National Coalition should be strong and respected... We support the Coalition on the military level, as well as the humanitarian and political levels," he said, declining to give details about military assistance.

France "hopes that the Geneva conference would succeed because there will be no military solution in Syria," Le Drian said in reference to a US-Russian proposal for talks to end the bloody conflict.

Le Drian also discussed bilateral relations with Saudi officials, including cooperation on defence.

France is negotiating large defence contracts with the oil-rich kingdom.

Le Drian said the Saudi side confirmed to him that a 1.3-billion-euro ($1.77 billion) contract to overhaul four frigates and two refuelling ships, in service since the 1980s, had "entered into effect on October 7".

The work would involve French weapons and systems makers, DCNS, Thales and MBDA, he said in a statement.

Discussions are meanwhile ongoing regarding another contract that could amount to two billion euros ($2.72 billion)for modernising Saudi air defences.

It would involve supplying Saudi Arabia with new generation Crotale surface-to-air rockets, produced by Thales.

Le Drian is on his third visit to Saudi Arabia since May last year.

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