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Emmanuel Macron in Saudi Arabia, a disputed diplomatic visit

The diplomatic meeting was expected by some, highly criticized by others. French President Emmanuel Macron met on Saturday, December 4 in Jeddah, on the west coast of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman (known as “MBS”), a strong man of the kingdom, to ensure the “Stability” in the Gulf and discuss in particular the situation in Lebanon.

While on an express tour of the Gulf, Mr. Macron spent a few hours in this large Saudi Red Sea port city the day after a visit to the United Arab Emirates. Mohammed Ben Salman greeted the French president in the royal palace at the start of the afternoon.

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Lebanon Initiative

During their meeting, the French president and the Saudi crown prince laid the groundwork for a common initiative in favor of Lebanon. They called Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on the phone together, Macron said after their meeting.

“Saudi Arabia and France want to fully engage” in view of a “Re-engagement of the relationship” between Beirut and Riyadh after a serious diplomatic crisis, explained the French head of state to the press before leaving Jeddah. “Our will is also that the government [libanais] can work in a normal way, and meet as quickly as possible, and carry out the useful reforms “, he added, specifying that he would call President Michel Aoun on Sunday. Paris and Riyadh go “Work together, support reforms, allow the country to emerge from the crisis and preserve its sovereignty”, Mr. Macron underlined again a little later on Twitter.

The economic crisis in Lebanon has been worsened for several weeks by the open diplomatic quarrel with several Gulf States. Riyadh recalled its ambassador to Beirut at the end of October and expelled the Lebanese ambassador, following comments by Information Minister George Kordahi criticizing the military intervention carried out by the Saudi kingdom, at the head of a coalition in Yemen. Mr. Kordahi, who defended the Houthi Proiranian rebels in that country, announced his resignation on Friday. Riyadh has also banned imports from Lebanon, and three other Gulf countries (Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) have retaliated against Beirut.

An outcast on the international stage

Emmanuel Macron, with this visit, becomes one of the first Western leaders to meet “MBS” since the 2018 assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Istanbul. The international image of the crown prince has been strongly tarnished by this affair.

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The French head of state deemed it necessary to speak to Saudi Arabia on Friday, “Leading Gulf country in terms of size”, to can “To work for the stability of the region”. But this “Does not mean that we are complacent”, he assured, alluding to this murder.

“I note that Saudi Arabia organized the G20 in the following year [l’affaire Khashoggi] and I did not notice that many powers boycotted the G20 “, he again noted, omitting to specify that the meeting, in November 2020, was held by videoconference, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “We have always been clear on the subject of human rights or this matter”, insisted Emmanuel Macron.

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At the time of this presidential visit, a complaint was filed Friday in Paris with a civil action against the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in particular for the financing of terrorism. The plaintiffs, victims of the war in Yemen, accuse the two countries of having established a « alliance » with the jihadist group Al-Qaida, explained their lawyer, Joseph Breham.

Saudi Arabia, an ally of the United States, has been intervening in Yemen since 2015 at the head of a military coalition in support of the government against the Houthi rebels, politically supported by Iran, enemy of Washington and regional rival of Riyadh. The Emirates withdrew their troops from Yemen in 2019 but remain members of the coalition. The Saudi authorities have not responded to the requests at this stage. Also contacted, the Emirati power had no immediate comment to make.

Rafale sales

Emmanuel Macron at Jeddah airport on December 4.

On the first day of the presidential trip to the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates signed an agreement on Friday to acquire 80 Rafale fighter jets – a record order for the fighter jet which entered service in 2004 – for 14 billion euros. Other military contracts (helicopters and weapons) pushed the total to 17 billion.

After Dubai, where he met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Ben Zayed Al Nahyane, the French President met in Qatar with Emir Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad Al Thani. Emmanuel Macron notably “Thanked” Qatar for organizing the evacuation of 258 Afghans “Threatened because of their commitments” Where “Of their links with France”, which will be repatriated to France after passing through Doha.

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The World with AFP

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