The one-day visit – Mr Sarkozy’s third to the kingdom in less than two years – is both low-key and high-intensity. Billed on both sides as more personal than public, there are no plans for announcements or unveilings of joint agreements during the visit.
At the same time, Mr Sarkozy will stay overnight at Janadriya, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz’s desert ranch on Riyadh’s northern outskirts. There, the two leaders will have the opportunity to engage in candid, heart-to-heart conversations mostly by themselves without large entourages on either side.
The agenda for their discussions has not been disclosed but four topics undoubtedly will have high priority, starting with their mutual concern over the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the perception that the US president Barack Obama has backed away from pressuring the Israeli government into halting settlement expansion.
“The deadlock … is extremely worrying” because it “plays into the hands of extremists and each day the chance of peace is slipping away a little”, the French president said in an interview published yesterday in Al Riyadh newspaper. “The priority is to restart as soon as possible the peace process.”
King Abdullah and Mr Sarkozy are also likely to discuss Iran’s nuclear weapons programme, as well as Saudi concerns about Iran’s ambitions to become the Gulf’s dominant power.
Those concerns have deepened in recent days with growing signs that Tehran is seeking to take advantage of the two-week-old conflict between Saudi military forces and Yemeni rebels on the kingdom’s southern border with Yemen.