The French government is talking to Saudi Arabia about selling the kingdom Rafale fighter jets, France’s defence minister said on Monday. Sebastien Lecornu told reporters there were “discussions” between Rafale maker Dassault Aviation and Saudi Arabia about a potential sale but gave no details. Weekly La Tribune Dimanche reported that Saudi Arabia — whose airforce is mostly equipped with American F-15s and Eurofighters built by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain — had asked Dassault for a cost estimate for 54 Rafales by November 10. The Rafale, a twin-engine multirole fighter aircraft, is a bestseller for the French arms industry, and helped push French weapons exports to a record high last year. France, the world’s third-biggest arms exporting nation after the United States and Russia, sold 80 of the fighters to the United Arab Emirates for an estimated 16 billion euros ($17 billion) in 2022. Indonesia, Greece, India, Qatar and Egypt are also Rafale customers. France has sold more than half its Rafale production to date abroad. NGOs often criticise France for delivering arms to what they say are authoritarian regimes. But the defence ministry said in a report last year that France always respected its “international commitments” and weapons exports were subject to “very strict rules” and export controls. Saudi Arabia, already a major buyer of French weapons, is regularly accused of human rights violations which NGOs and others say include mass executions and the targeting of individuals exercising their right of freedom of expression and association.