With the election of reformist President Hassan Rouhani and a strong diplomatic push, much of the world was looking toward a rapprochement with Iran, with many businesses looking to reap the benefits of reintegrating oil-rich Iran into the global economy. France apparently found a better deal.
The Saudi government had repeatedly made it clear they opposed diplomacy with Iran, while playing up the idea that they wanted significant extra arms purchases in anticipation of having to defend their coast when the international community eventually attacks Iran outright.
The Saudis have deep pockets and have shown a willingness to openly try to “buy” influence in the past several months, going so far as to try to bribe Russia into dropping support for the Syrian government. That failed, much to the Saudis’ chagrin, but they seem to have found a willing partner in France.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, France can certainly make a deal extremely difficult. At the same time, being so overtly mercenary seems destined to backfire, and far from succeeding in making France more influential across the Middle East, it might convince many they’re only valuable partners until the better deal comes along.