French President Emmanuel Macron met the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday to discuss regional ‘stability’.
Macron met with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler in Jeddah following his visits to UAE and Qatar.
The meeting with Crown Prince, following Macron’s meeting with the Qatari emir, was to discuss regional stability, especially the crisis-hit Lebanon.
Macron has become one of the first Western leaders to meet with Prince Mohammed in the kingdom since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate in 2018.
The killing by Saudi agents severely damaged Prince Mohammed’s international image and drew widespread condemnation.
However, Macron said dialogue with Saudi Arabia was needed to “work for stability in the region”. He added, in a reference to the Khashoggi murder, that “it doesn’t mean that I endorse anything”.
Macron said, “I note that Saudi Arabia had organised the G20 summit… not many powers boycotted the G20” despite the Khashoggi affair. He added, “We have always been clear on the issue of human rights or this case.”
Riyadh has labeled the murder as a “rogue” operation, but both the US Central Intelligence Agency and a United Nations special rapporteur have directly linked Prince Mohammed to the killing, a charge the kingdom denies.
Ties with Lebanon
The expectation was that Macron will plead the case of Lebanon, during his discussions with Prince Mohammed. Lebanon is facing an economic crisis caused by a diplomatic dispute sparked in October between Beirut and some Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia which had blocked imports.
The Lebanese Information Minister Georges Kordahi whose remarks on the Saudi intervention in Yemen’s war triggered the dispute. Kordahi’s resignation will aid Macron’s efforts regarding the matter.
Back in October, videos of Kordahi’s interview circulated online, in which he said the Iran-aligned Houthis are “defending themselves … against an external aggression” in Yemen.
He also noted that the long-running conflict was “futile” and called for it to end.
Lebanon’s fragile government has been struggling to secure international aid, particularly from wealthy Arab powers.
The UAE on Friday signed a record 14 billion euros ($15.8bn) contract for 80 French Rafale warplanes and committed billions of euros in a number of other deals during Macron’s visit.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the sale, saying the UAE played “a prominent role in the Saudi and UAE-led coalition’s atrocity-ridden military operations in Yemen”.
Last year, Riyadh was the largest buyer of French weapons, HRW added.
“He [Macron] should be speaking out against human rights abuses,” HRW said in a statement on Thursday ahead of the Gulf tour.