Sarkozy faux pas miffed Saudis: WikiLeaks

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.

Last Updated: Dec 01, 2010, 20:59 PM IST

Riyadh: 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 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.

PTI