RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed on the need to restart Middle East peace talks and discussed Iran’s nuclear program.

In three hours of talks at King Abdullah’s ranch at Janadriya late on Tuesday, the two leaders discussed a host of issues including Lebanon.

In an apparent reference to recent border incursion, Sarkozy voiced support for Riyadh’s right to defend its territory, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

On the second day of his trip on Wednesday, Sarkozy had a meeting with Prince Naif, second deputy premier and minister of interior. They also discussed the Middle East peace process, Iran, Lebanon and other regional issues.

Referring to the talks between Saudi and French leaders, Saudi and French sources said that the two sides discussed international efforts to press Iran to suspend its nuclear program. “Iran needs to quickly accept offers to start dialogue, because the patience of the international community is not infinite,” said Sarkozy.

On his third trip in two years to Riyadh, the French president sought to boost a personal relationship with King Abdullah and the Kingdom’s top leaders, while reasserting France’s role in Middle East politics. The two sides also touched on economic relations, including French group Alstom’s bid to supply locomotives for the high-speed railway now under construction in the Kingdom. The bid, to be decided next spring, faces tough competition from Germany, Spain, China and South Korea.

“The French president’s meeting with Prince Naif at King Abdullah’s ranch here was attended by Abdulrahman bin Ali Al-Rubaian, a key aide to the second deputy premier, and French Ambassador Bertrand Besancenot, besides a number of Saudi and French officials,” said a Western diplomat.

Sarkozy also met Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company, and Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, chief of the National Guard, before he wrapped up his visit on Wednesday and left for Doha where his wife Carla Bruni arrived a day earlier to take part in a high-profile conference on education.

On the commercial front, the Kingdom and France have forged closer relations. A French company, Technip, also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Saudi company, SaudConsult, to set up a 50/50 joint venture company to develop an engineering center of excellence in Alkhobar.

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