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Smiles all round: Saudi crown prince visits Spain to sign €2.2 billion arms deal

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Smiles all round: Saudi crown prince visits Spain to sign €2.2 billion arms deal
All smiles at the Zarzuela Palace. Photo: AFP
16:06 CEST+02:00
Saudi Arabia's crown prince held talks Thursday with Spain's king and prime minister in Madrid, the last stop of his global diplomatic charm offensive to try to project a new liberal image for his conservative kingdom.

Spain's King Felipe VI met with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who serves as  defence minister and also controls economic policy for the world's top oil  exporter, at the Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid, before hosting a  luncheon in his honour attended by senior Spanish officials and businessmen.


King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia greet the Saudi crown prince. Photo: AFP

The Saudi prince then held talks behind closed doors with Defence Minister  Maria Dolores Cospedal and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.  

He is expected to sign five memorandums of understanding in the areas of  culture, science, employment, air transport and defence.   

Top-selling daily newspaper El Pais reported earlier this week that Spain  would likely make progress during his visit on a deal to sell five corvettes  warships to Saudi Arabia for around two billion euros ($2.5 billion).

"The signing of this memorandum of understanding (on defence) can be a step  in that direction," a Spanish government source told AFP.    

A coalition of NGOs including Amnesty International and Greenpeace urged  Madrid not to go ahead with the deal because the corvettes could be used in  Saudi Arabia's military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen,  where thousands of civilians have been killed.

READ MORE: NGOs urge Spain not to sell warships to Saudi Arabia

But Spain's loss-making shipbuilder Navantia is placing a lot of hope on  the deal, which has reportedly been under negotiation for two years.    

Prince Mohammed is already seen as the country's de facto ruler controlling  the major levers of government.

He arrived in Spain late on Wednesday hot on the heels of a three-day  official visit to France and after a tour lasting several weeks of Egypt, the  United States and Britain that saw the self-styled moderniser sign  multimillion-dollar deals.   

Madrid is the last stop of his global diplomatic charm offensive.

Key countries

The goal of this global tour "is to present this young prince, who is quite  unknown, in countries he considers key for his plans to transform Saudi  Arabia," Haizam Amirah-Fernandez, an analyst at Spanish think-tank Real  Instituto Elcano who specialises in the Awarb world, told AFP.

Spain is a leader in sectors such as renewable energy and infrastructure  which are key to Prince Mohammed's "Vision 2030", a package of economic and  social policies designed to free the kingdom from dependence on oil exports,  he added.

As part of this plan Riyadh plans to spend 32 billion euros on  transportation infrastructure in the next decade and Spanish firms are keen to  score building contracts. Spain's public works ministry has identified Saudi 
Arabia as one a "nation of interest".

Spanish firms have already won two major infrastructure contracts in Saudi  Arabia in recent years.

A Spanish consortium, Al-Shoula, is building a high-speed railway across  the desert to link the holy cities of Mecca and Medina while Spanish  construction group FCC leads one of three consortia building a rapid transit  system in the Saudi capital.

Spain and Saudi Arabia's royal families are very close as King Felipe's  father Juan Carlos was a close friend of the kingdom's late King Fahd, who  reigned from 1982 to 2005, and is close to his brother King Salman.

King Felipe visited Saudi Arabia in January 2017, three years after he  assumed the Spanish throne.

 

 

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