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Jean-Marc Ayrault France FM in Saudi to reaffirm 'partnership'

Jean-Marc Ayrault is currently in Saudi Arabia to reaffirm the allies' "strategic partnership."

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French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault on his first ministerial visit to Saudi Arabia "will discuss the main regional issues, particularly the situations in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Syria" play

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault on his first ministerial visit to Saudi Arabia "will discuss the main regional issues, particularly the situations in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Syria"

(AFP/File)

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday to reaffirm the allies' "strategic partnership", as European concerns mount over US President Donald Trump's foreign policies.

Ayrault, on his first ministerial visit to the kingdom, "will discuss the main regional issues, particularly the situations in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Syria", the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

The minister is to meet his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir as well as King Salman.

France's ties with Saudi Arabia have grown under President Francois Hollande.

At the same time, Riyadh has been building alliances beyond its traditional defence partner, the United States, to counter Iran, after concerns that former president Barack Obama had eased US policy towards Riyadh's regional rival.

Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite-dominated Iran support opposite sides of the wars in Syria and Yemen.

Ayrault's visit coincides with Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan jointly organised by Iran, Turkey and Russia.

The French minister "will reaffirm the strategic partnership uniting France and Saudi Arabia", the foreign ministry in Paris said.

Trump, who took over from Obama on Friday, has prompted European fears of an isolationist Washington.

Trump cast doubt on Europe's future, particularly after Britain's shock vote to leave the EU, prompting Ayrault to say last week that the best response is for Europeans to "come together as a bloc".

However, Jubeir has said he expects Trump's administration "to be more engaged" in the Middle East, rebuilding ties with allies.

Ayrault's Saudi visit, which ends on Tuesday, follows a trip to France last June by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the defence minister and driving force behind the kingdom's Vision 2030 plan to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

The French minister on Tuesday morning is to visit construction work on the $22.5-billion Riyadh Metro rapid transit project, in which French company Alstom is part of a consortium building the system.

He will also meet Saudi business leaders.

France is the third-biggest foreign investor in Saudi Arabia and has been seeking to boost weapons sales to the Gulf region despite concerns raised by rights groups.

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