France’s Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

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French President Emmanuel Macron met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday for the final leg of his two-day Gulf tour. Concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, several crises in Lebanon and the ongoing war in Yemen were expected to be broadcast privately by both sides.

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

He also said he would take up the issue of Lebanon with the Saudi Crown Prince, particularly the importance of standing with the politically stalemate country as it cares from one crisis to another.

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In Saudi Arabia, Macron met the crown prince in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, where the kingdom is in the midst of hosting its first Formula One race and a pop concert by Justin Bieber, despite calls by rights groups to boycott it. Was. It is the latest push by the young crown prince to showcase the social reforms he initiated and for which he has been welcomed. Simultaneously, however, the prince has also led a widespread crackdown on human rights activists and critics, culminating in the late 2018 killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, an operation that has dented the prince’s reputation abroad. tarnished.

Macron, 43, has consistently kept open a line of communication with the 36-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, including at a time of international controversy. Most notably, the intervention of the French president was seen as helping Lebanon’s then-prime minister, Saad Hariri, leave Saudi Arabia in 2017 after reportedly resigning from his position during a visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. was forced to.

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Lebanon is expected to rejoin Macron’s talks with Prince Mohammed. Lebanon, already suffering from an unprecedented economic crisis, is facing additional economic and diplomatic pressure from Gulf Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia, due to frustration over the supremacy of Lebanese politics by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group.

Hours before arriving in Jiddah, Macron said it was “absolutely necessary” for the region to reopen economic ties and help Lebanon in times of need. He said he discussed this with the ruling Emir of Qatar and would do so with the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia.

To help defuse tensions ahead of Macron’s visit to Jeddah, a Lebanese minister who criticized the Saudi-led war in Yemen and whose comments sparked the latest Gulf controversy resigned from the government on Friday. Gave. He said he stepped down ahead of the visit in the hope that the move might aid the French president’s efforts to restore Saudi-Lebanese ties.

Macron told reporters in Qatar, “I think this resignation has made it possible to resume the possibility of discussions with Saudi Arabia in particular. The first objective should be that the Lebanese government can function normally.” , that is, meet, work on the inevitable improvements and move forward.”

While in Qatar early Saturday, Macron praised the small Gulf state’s role in aiding efforts to evacuate European citizens from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country in the summer.

He added that France and other EU countries are looking at Afghanistan “to be a common site for many European countries where our ambassadors or chares d’affaires may be present”. He stressed that it would not imply political recognition or political dialogue with the Taliban.

Throughout his meetings in the Gulf, Macron’s talks have also focused on revived talks with world powers regarding Iran’s nuclear deal, of which France is a party. France, Germany and the United Kingdom have indicated that the 2015 nuclear deal – with minor changes – with Iran is the way forward. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia opposed a negotiated deal with Iran, although both have held talks with Tehran to defuse tensions.

During Macron’s visit to the UAE on Friday, France announced that the UAE is buying 80 advanced Rafale warplanes in a deal worth 16 billion euros ($18 billion) and represents the largest ever French arms contract for export. . The deal faced criticism from human rights groups concerned about the UAE’s involvement in the war in Yemen.

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Associated Press producer Masha McPherson contributed from Paris.

Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Emmanuel Macron

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