It's not just Bush who is touring the Middle East

French President Nicolas Sarkozy began a three-day Middle Eastern visit to boost energy and defense contracts and discuss regional political matters, including Iran, Lebanon and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Sarkozy’s trip began yesterday in Saudi Arabia and will continue in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Yesterday, he and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz al-Saud signed an oil and gas cooperation agreement and an education accord; they also spent more than an hour talking about a series of contracts that could earn the winning companies a total of 39.5 billion euros ($58.4 billion) and about the Middle East political issues.

The French president said France could do “much better” at gaining more market share in the region where it lags behind countries including the U.S., China and Germany. Defense, oil, natural gas, air and rail transportation, and water distribution are France’s biggest exports to the Gulf states.

“The interest of this visit is political, economic, cultural and military,” Sarkozy told reporters yesterday after signing the agreements with King Abdullah. He will make a speech today at the kingdom’s Consultative Council and address French and local businessmen.

Sarkozy’s visit coincides with U.S. President George W. Bush’s week-long trip to the region that will bring Bush to the Arabian kingdom today, less than two hours after Sarkozy will have left for Qatar.

France is due to announce a series of agreements and contracts by the end of the official visit on Jan. 15.

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