DOHA — France's President Nicolas Sarkozy wrapped up Wednesday a Gulf visit during which he agreed with Saudi King Abdullah on the need to restart Middle East peace talks and took a firm stance on Iran.
In three hours of "deep" talks at Abdullah's Janadiriyah desert farm, north of Riyadh, late Tuesday, the leaders "were agreed on the need for rapid steps to relaunch the peace process," an official of the French presidency told AFP.
King Abdullah is "on the same wavelength" as France on the need to relaunch the peace process, the official said.
On Wednesday, Sarkozy made a brief stopover in Doha where his wife Carla Bruni arrived a day earlier to take part in a conference on education, following an invitation by the emir's wife, Sheikha Moza al-Misnid.
Riyadh slams Israel's new settlements
Sarkozy held talks with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, before the presidential couple headed back to Paris.
The president arrived in the Saudi capital on Tuesday for an overnight stay to discuss mainly regional political issues and build a closer working relationship.
The two leaders discussed the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran's nuclear ambitions, Lebanese politics and other key issues over a three-hour meeting.
The presidency official would not comment on reports that France is offering to host a new Middle East peace conference.
But in a Saudi newspaper interview, Sarkozy said: "I told (Syrian) President (Bashar al-) Assad ... and (Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu: France is ready to facilitate the resumption of talks, if the parties consider that we can be helpful."
The Saudi and French leaders also discussed international efforts to press the Gulf state's regional rival Iran to suspend its controversial nuclear drive, the presidency official said.
Sarkozy stressed that Iran needs to quickly accept offers to enter dialogue, "because the patience of the international community is not infinite."
On October 21, the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, offered Tehran a deal to ship its low-enriched uranium stock out of the country for processing abroad into reactor fuel.
Tehran on Wednesday said it had rejected the offer.
It called for more talks with world powers on its nuclear programme, which the West believes is masking efforts to make atomic weapons but which Tehran insists is for power generation only.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner slammed Iran's stand as "extremely negative" but said Paris would continue dialogue on the issue.
On his third trip in two years to Riyadh, Sarkozy was also seeking to boost a personal relationship with the king and France's role in Middle East regional politics.
The two also touched on Lebanon's formation of a unity government after months of political infighting.
In an apparent reference to Saudi attacks on Yemeni Huthi rebels along the border, Sarkozy voiced support for Riyadh's right to defend its territory, the Saudi official news agency SPA reported.
The two likewise touched on economic relations, including French group Alstom's bid to supply locomotives for the high-speed Mecca-Medina railway now under construction.
Early Wednesday, Sarkozy also met Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, SPA said.
Separately, he had talks with billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, owner of the landmark Paris luxury hotel Georges V and a shareholder in the Euro Disney amusement park.
"The two discussed the prince's ties with France through his investments there and economic and social issues," Alwaleed's office said in a press release.
Earlier this year, Sarkozy awarded Alwaleed the "President of France Medal".
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