Sarkozy faux pas miffed Saudis: WikiLeaks

1st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy miffed his hosts on his first visit to Saudi Arabia, avoiding local food, looking bored and aggressively promoting French business, a newly released US diplomatic cable revealed on Wednesday.

Saudis told US diplomats after the January 2008 visit that they were put off even before Sarkozy arrived by his plan to bring his then-fiancee model Carla Bruni with him, the report by the US embassy in Riyadh said.

Saudi culture frowns on unrelated men and women mixing together publicly.

But after his arrival sans-Bruni -- now his wife -- Sarkozy "was viewed as less than gracious" at some events, for avoiding traditional Arab food and appearing bored during the standard sword dance ceremony performed by Saudi men at celebrations.

Saudis were also bugged by Sarkozy's focus on selling French goods and services, said the report, released through London's Guardian newspaper on Wednesday by the WikiLeaks whistleblower website.

It said Sarkozy "reportedly" gave his hosts a list of 14 deals French firms were pursuing with the Saudi government, that included original prices "and discounts Sarkozy was prepared to negotiate."

France is known to be competing hard to win multi-billion-dollar defence, infrastructure and other contracts with Riyadh.

The offences were "minor in substance, but significant to Saudi sensibilities," a US official wrote.

"These incidents characterised one overarching private comment from the Saudis, that Pres. Sarkozy has not replaced Pres. Chirac in Saudi eyes," the report said, referring to the French leader's predecessor Jacques Chirac.

Sarkozy's second visit, a brief stop in Jeddah in November 2008, also did not wow the Saudis, who hoped he would spend more time getting to know King Abdullah, according to diplomatic sources.

In his third visit in November 2009, though, the French leader stayed overnight at Abdullah's Janadiriyah farm, a near-requirement for foreign leaders to seal good relations with the 86-year-old ruler.

But a planned visit by Abdullah to France this year has been put off twice. The cancellations have been explained by the king's health problems -- he travelled to the United States last week for an operation to resolve a debilitating slipped disc.

© 2010 AFP

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