Monday, November 28

France’s Macron Meets Saudi Crown Prince At Last Gulf Stop

French President Emmanuel Macron met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday for the final leg of a two-day tour of the Gulf.

Both sides were expected to privately convey concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, the multiple crises in Lebanon and the ongoing war in Yemen.

Hours earlier, Macron was in Qatar, where he told reporters that France and several European nations were considering opening a joint diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, but stressed that it would not mean recognition by the country’s Taliban rulers.

He also said that he would raise the issue of Lebanon with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, in particular the importance of supporting the politically stagnant country as it moves from one crisis to another.

In Saudi Arabia, Macron met the crown prince in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, where the kingdom is in the midst of celebrating its first Formula One race and a Justin Bieber pop concert, despite calls by human rights groups for a boycott.

It is the latest push from the young crown prince to showcase the social reforms he has introduced and for which he has been acclaimed.

Simultaneously, however, the prince has also spearheaded a widespread crackdown on human rights activists and critics, culminating in the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018 in Turkey, an operation that tarnished the prince’s reputation abroad.

Macron, 43, has always kept a line of communication open with the 36-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, even in times of international controversy.

Lebanon and Afghanistan in focus

In particular, the French president’s intervention was deemed key in 2017 to help then-Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri leave Saudi Arabia after he was allegedly forced to resign from his post during a visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. .

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Lebanon is expected to reappear in Macron’s talks with Prince Mohammed. Already suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis, Lebanon faces additional economic and diplomatic pressure from the Arab Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia, due to frustration over the dominance of Lebanese politics by the backed Hezbollah group. by Iran.

Hours before arriving in Jiddah, Macron said it is “absolutely necessary” for the region to reopen economic relations and assist Lebanon during its time of need. He said that he discussed this with the ruling emir of Qatar and that he would discuss this with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

To help ease tensions ahead of Macron’s trip to Jiddah, a Lebanese minister who had criticized the Saudi-led war in Yemen and whose comments sparked the latest dispute in the Gulf, resigned from the government on Friday.

He said he resigned before the trip in hopes the move could help the French president’s efforts to restore relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

“I think this resignation has made it possible to relaunch the possibility of discussions, especially with Saudi Arabia,” Macron told reporters in Qatar. “The first objective must be that the Lebanese government can function normally, that is, meet, work and advance in essential reforms.”

While in Qatar early on Saturday, Macron praised the role of the small Gulf state in assisting with evacuation efforts for European citizens out of Afghanistan following the takeover of the country by the Taliban over the summer.

He said that France and other EU countries are thinking of “having a common site for several European countries where our ambassadors or charge d’affaires can be present” in Afghanistan. He stressed that this would not mean political recognition or political dialogue with the Taliban.

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Reliving the Iran talks

Throughout their meetings in the Gulf, Macron’s talks have also focused on the revived talks about Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, of which France is a party.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom have all signaled that the 2015 nuclear deal, with minor adjustments, is the way forward with Iran. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia had opposed the negotiated deal with Iran, although both have since held talks with Tehran to defuse tensions.

During Macron’s visit to the UAE on Friday, France announced that the UAE will purchase 80 upgraded Rafale fighter jets in a deal worth € 16 billion and represents the largest French arms contract for export. . The agreement faced criticism from human rights groups concerned about the UAE’s involvement in the war in Yemen.

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