Saudi agrees on nuclear energy pact with France
The Saudi cabinet agreed on Monday to sign a nuclear cooperation accord with France, which could open the way for French help in developing nuclear power in the oil-rich kingdom.
The agreement is "for the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy," the cabinet announced after its weekly meeting in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.
The pact was first proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in talks with King Abdullah in June 2007 in Paris, and the French side submitted a draft when Sarkozy visited Riyadh in January 2008.
Saudi agreement was delayed while Riyadh undertook last year a formal review of its nuclear policy, which resulted in the April 2010 announcement that the kingdom would establish a new research centre on nuclear and renewable energy.
That was seen as the strongest signal yet that the country, which burns large amounts of oil and natural gas to generate electricity and desalinate sea water for domestic consumption, could develop nuclear power.
No details of the new pact were released, and there was no indication of when Riyadh and Paris would formally sign the agreement.
The holder of around one-fifth of the world's known oil reserves, the Saudis have moved slowly on nuclear energy, despite having signed a bilateral peaceful nuclear cooperation pact with the United States in May 2008.
In December, neighbouring United Arab Emirates awarded a South Korean-led consortium a 20.4-billion-dollar contract for four nuclear power plants.
The Saudi cabinet on Monday also agreed on a draft bilateral tax treaty with France, and on a third pact on cooperation between the Saudi Institute of Public Administration and France's elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration, or ENA.
© 2010 AFP