After Reportedly Being Offered Saudi Weapons Sales, France Tries to Blow Up Iran Deal

Several weeks after this WSJ article describing a staged Bandar bin Sultan tantrum about US actions, it was revealed the “Western diplomat” involved was a representative of France.

Diplomats here said Prince Bandar, who is leading the kingdom’s efforts to fund, train and arm rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, invited a Western diplomat to the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah over the weekend to voice Riyadh’s frustration with the Obama administration and its regional policies, including the decision not to bomb Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in August.

“This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.,” Prince Bandar was quoted by diplomats as specifying of Saudi Arabia’s decision to walk away from the Security Council membership.


However, the diplomats said, Prince Bandar told them he intends to roll back a partnership with the U.S. in which the Central Intelligence Agency and other nations’ security bodies have covertly helped train Syrian rebels to fight Mr. Assad, Prince Bandar said, according to the diplomats. Saudi Arabia would work with other allies instead in that effort, including Jordan and France, the prince was quoted as saying.


In the run-up to the expected U.S. strikes, Saudi leaders asked for detailed U.S. plans for posting Navy ships to guard the Saudi oil center, the Eastern Province, during any strike on Syria, an official familiar with that discussion said. The Saudis were surprised when the Americans told them U.S. ships wouldn’t be able to fully protect the oil region, the official said.

Disappointed, the Saudis told the U.S. that they were open to alternatives to their long-standing defense partnership, emphasizing that they would look for good weapons at good prices, whatever the source, the official said.

In the second episode, one Western diplomat described Saudi Arabia as eager to be a military partner in what was to have been the U.S.-led military strikes on Syria. As part of that, the Saudis asked to be given the list of military targets for the proposed strikes. The Saudis indicated they never got the information, the diplomat said. [my emphasis]

The subtext here is clear: Bandar invited the French representative to Riyadh not just to whine about the US, but also to discuss weapons sales.

And now French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is scuttling an Iran nuke deal because it is a “suckers deal.” (See also Laura Rozen’s take, as well as her live tweeting the comings and goings at @LRozen.)

Oh, by the way. François Hollande is also due to visit Israel in a week.

It’s fairly clear what’s going on. Saudi Arabia has to forestall an Iran deal, because once that happens the Iran will be in a position to challenge the Saudi position as a swing producer (particularly if you assume Iran and Shia-led Iraq might act in concert).

So France will make an effort to thwart any deal. And if talks fail, they’ll get a big chunk of Saudi Arabia’s considerable weapons spending, at a time when the Saudis will probably be even further ramping up their purchases.

France, it seems, aspires to be the European participant in the growing Saudi-Israeli power block.

21 replies
  1. Philip Munger says:

    Laura Rozen has been doing a sturdy job covering this weird conference and its weirder ending. Note how she has positioned herself so she can see who goes into the bar.

  2. bevin says:

    “So Hollande thinks weapons sales are that important and needs to prop up two regressive regimes? Not very Socialist of him!!”

    He will be delighted that you think so.

  3. eso says:

    France and England will side with the Saudis; Germany with Russia.
    A repetition of differences of opinion since Carolingian times. Germany and Russia have the better judgement.

  4. L'Observateur Français says:

    France is a basket case with a putrefying economy hobbled by the hydra of debt, crony capitalism, corruption and syndicalism and moving deeper into it. Monsieur Hollande is regularly on TV claiming to detect the imminent end to the recession while his “Minister of the Productive Economic Recovery” (it is actually named that way) bashes evil capitalists and scares investors with tough talk.

    I guess that Hollande can use Saudi petrodollars or Israeli markets.

    Do not forget that he was in the breach for a quick Syrian Humanitarian Bombing Campaign even faster than Obama. That was rather unseemly and is not explained by the permanent calls in the french media to “do something”.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    al Bawaba, Oct 3, 2013

    France has been the first country to sign government to government agreement on nuclear and energy with Saudi Arabia.

    French companies AREVA and EDF hosted a number of Saudi business and industry representatives at their Second Suppliers Day event held in Jeddah on Tuesday to take part in the framework of the sustainable energy program suggested by King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) focused on nuclear and renewable energy sources.

    Some 200 participants from local companies attended, including Dr. Mohieden Garwan, KA-CARE, French Ambassador to KSA Bertrand Besancenot, representatives of Saudi industry, along with Tarek Choho, AREVA Chief Commercial Officer and Mrs. Valerie Levkov, EDF VP New Nuclear Energy. The suppliers’ day initiative aimed at providing local industry with a platform for exposure, knowledge sharing, and networking.

    Speaking to the Saudi Gazette, the French Ambassador to the Kingdom said “the aim of this meeting is very clear, France has been the first country to sign government to government agreement on nuclear and energy because we do think that taking it into account the huge program the Saudi government wants to implement in the nuclear field and France has a lot to bring in terms of the best nuclear technology in the world.”

    Besancenot added that Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of France in the region and the bilateral relationship is of paramount importance in the economic field as “we are seeing that bilateral trade has doubled over the last five years.”

    He stressed that France is ready to be Saudi Arabia’s strategic partner in the field of nuclear and renewable energy. He also highlighted the competencies of France’s nuclear energy industry and its ability to support the Kingdom goal.

  6. Don Bacon says:

    Didn’t Kerry have all the information on France-Saudi nuclear ties — meeting notes, phone conversations, etc etc — from the $50 billion NSA spy program, plus France’s intention to torpedo the talks ?

    If he did have this information, why did he go to Geneva and look foolish yet again, along with the other FM’s? Didn’t they have better things to do than go on a wild goose chase courtesy of La Belle France?

    If he didn’t have this information then perhaps we have an overblown ineffective stumbling mislead criminal spy organization. But we knew that.

  7. John Ellis says:

    A perfect revelation of why Iran is suffering such a sanctions act of war, with Western mainstream media able to blind minds by burning emotions, with the smokescreen unending of “The West is concerned… there is concern… concerned… concerned… concerned…” Good job EmptyWheel.

  8. Samuel Gion says:

    Hi from France :)
    I’m ashamed of my government, whose last moves, on Syria and Iran, reflects a strategic change that hasn’t been discussed, neither in parliament or in front of public opinion.
    Since the early 60’s, post-imperial France foreign policy could be defined as autonomous from the USA and less hawkish, more balanced on every issue, from Cold War to Middle-East conflicts.
    Since Sarkozy’s 2007 election and know with Hollande, France’s new doctrine is “being more hawkish, autonomous from the USA on every subject”.
    As wrote in the blog and the comments, the only rationale is to become Israel, Saudi Arabia and others (the little wealthy Qatar is very influential in France) 2nd best friend and 2nd best arms dealer.
    Thanks Mrs EW for this great work.
    Phil, Ed, Bevin : your comments are perfectly accurate, and I’ve tweeted something to my president yesterday night, roughly the same idea, in a less polite tone.

  9. tjallen says:

    Saudi Arabia/Bandar is having trouble manipulating US like he did when the Bushes and Repulicans were his lackeys?

  10. Frog From Paris says:

    The truth is that Laurent Fabius is of jewish ascendance – his parents were jewish and converted to Catholicism – and takes position only regarding Israel interests. He defends the israeli, jewish and zionist interests first – from Syria to Iran. The Saudis serve as a cover, which is made easy by the fact that Saudi and Israel are now aligned against Iran.

    In France, we don’t have AIPAC here but with have the CRIF which is a french albeit smoother version of the AIPAC. The “Israel-sucking” has been there for a long time. You can for example get a look at the Cercle Léon Blum, a think-thank linked to the French Socialist Party, and its position regarding zionism.

    And since several years, the “Qatar-sucking” has become very trendy as well amongst our French representatives. Theses are some pieces which help to understand the puzzle and get the big picture.

    The French diplomacy does not exist anymore, at least not as it used to be, i.e. essentially multipolar and defending France and French interests.

  11. Don Bacon says:

    The truth is that Laurent Fabius is of jewish ascendance….

    Oh dear, that’s a terrible truth. He would be so much more reasonable if he were ….Christian perhaps? ha

  12. From From Paris says:

    @Don Bacon: That’s dishonest to cut the sentence in two pieces whereas the “truth” applies to the whole sentence including both combined assertions.

    But yeah, that would be reasonable if Fabius behaved as a jewish French instead of French jew. That’s the less we can expect from a Foreign Minister, serving the interests of the country he is representing, not the interests of a third country, cannot we ?

    You can label me, cast spells on me, or curse me, or whatever gonna get out of your mouth as you wish, I don’t intend to discuss with an intellectual terrorist anyway.

  13. Don Bacon says:

    @From From Paris:
    I didn’t label you at all, nor cast spells on you, so it’s dishonest to infer that I did. My point is that it is foolish and distracting to characterize anyone by their religion as you did, and as you continue to do.

  14. Michael Murry says:

    To our Friend from Paris: First, thank you for conversing with us in our native English language. I doubt that many of us could do as well in yours. Having said that, I would caution you against the indiscriminate use of the word “terrorist” in any language. Strictly speaking, it has become through profligate (if not promiscuous) abuuse nothing but an all-purpose epithet for something one dislikes. You make the perfectly valid point that representatives of a person’s country ought to act in the best intrests of that country and not in the interests of some other country. Stick with that and avoid personifying the issue and you’ll get fewer arguments here or anywhere else. Just a friendly word of advice, which, since I offer it for free, is probably worth what you paid for it.

    Nous sommes d’accord?

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