France and Saudi Arabia appeared yesterday to have drawn closer together as a result of Saudi King Khalid's visit and a mutual concern over Soviet military activities in Africa.
A joint communique at the end of the king's visit spoke of the two government's "grave preoccupations with certain efforts at destabilization" in Africa.
The Saudis, according to American sources close to them have for some time expressed private puzzlement and irritation over what they see as U.S. passivity toward Soviet and Cuban expansionism.
Although the Saudis have taken great care not to endanger this extensive relations with the United States, these soures say that Khalid's visit to France reflects a growing view among top Saudis that Saudi Arabia needs to back away from Washington's monopoly on Western relations with the oil kingdom. The Saudis also speak privately of the need to diversify their potential arms sources.
Saudi leaders nevertheless went to great pains during the visit to avoid doing anything that might arouse pro-Israeli elements in U.S. public opinion or the Congress, such as suggesting that they want to arm themselves further after the Carter administration's successful fight to sell them F15 jets.
Contrary to general expectations in France, the Saudis did not follow through on previous suggestions of willingness to underwrite some of the heavy development costs of getting advanced French Mirage jets into production. French sources said the Saudis indicated privately that they do not want to irritate the Americans but do want to keep options open to help develop and buy the French planes later.
The Saudis are said to be interested in buying French arms for Sudan, North Yemen and Somalia. Saudi officials here, however, were very cautious about committing themselves publicly to financing the establishment of an inter-African force to fight the Cubans and Soviets.
French sources also said that the Saudis indicated strong interest in getting more French tanks, antitank rockets, helicopters equipped for antitank warfare and advanced missile boats.
The Saudis are also particularly interested in a French radar network to cover the Red Sea. Some Israelis express fear that such a system might hamper Israel's free use of the Red Sea as an air corridor for reconnaissance.
There were also reports that the Saudis might discuss their intention to increase already heavy deposits in French banks, as a way to help the French economy. Close friends of the Saudis say they have wanted to do this for some time but had held off for fear that the leftist alliance of Socialists and Communists might have won the French elections in March.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal ducked a question about Saudi deposists here but noted that France is the third largest holder of Saudi foreign deposits after the United States and Britain. There was one Arab press report that Saudi Arabia would put an additional $5 billion into French banks soon.
The French are also said to have sought a deal with Saudi Arabia to get oil at a fixed price for four years but to have met with a Saudi refusal. Prince Saud did repeat that his country does not think the current world oil supply situation justifies any price increases.
Saudi Arabia is by far France's largest oil supplier, providing more than 35 per cent Algeria, France's traditional oil source, is down to 5 percent of French oil imports and the Algerians accuse the French of favoring moderate Arab oil suppliers like the Saudis.
Even though French exports to Saudi Arabia have tripled in recent years, the French trade deficit with Saudi Arabia is more than $3 billion - the largest French trade deficit with any country by far.
Arms, training and military infrastructure are among the most costly items that France can provide. Prince Saud seemed to be hinting at increased military orders when he described the military relation as an "ongoing one." This came in a context in which he also spoke of both sides' desire to enlarge their ties in all fields.
Saud said that there are already 8,000 French citizens working in Saudi Arabia. The United States, however, has at least 30,000 of its citizens in the desert kingdom.
Political observers concluded from what seemed to be the largely ceremonial nature of the king's visit that the Saudis wanted above all to express their appreciation and satisfaction with French actions of Africa and the Middle East.
King Khalid and President Valery Giscard d'Estaing exchanged similar gifts. Giscard gave the king a gold falcon on an agate cup made by the Paris jeweler Van Cleef and Arpels. The king gave the president, a gold falcon from a Geneva jeweler. The falcon that the king gave had its wings stretched for flight, while the one the president gave was at rest with its wings tucked in. Mrs Giscard d'Estaing was given a turquoise and diamond necklace.