Macron Meets Saudi Heir Apparent Amid Criticism

Macron Meets Saudi Heir Apparent Amid Criticism

Cairo/Paris (dpa) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday visited Saudi Arabia and met its powerful heir apparent in the first official trip by a senior Western leader to the oil-rich monarchy since the 2018 killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a special commando sent from Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied reports that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder, which triggered global outcry.

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Mohammed on Saturday received Macron at a royal palace in the Saudi port city of Jeddah.

They reviewed ties between the two countries, “partnership fields” and developments in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s state news agency SPA reported without giving further details.

Macron said he talked “without any taboo” with the Saudi royal. “Of course, we were able to address the question of human rights,” the French leader told reporters.

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“This was a direct and hopefully effective exchange. The next weeks and months will show if we make progress on this topic,” he added.

Macron said dialogue was necessary with Saudi Arabia, the largest of the Gulf states. “The future of the whole region is decided here.”

Macron and Mohammed also discussed crisis-hit Lebanon and spoke by phone with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

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Saudi Arabia has recently been locked in a diplomatic rift with Lebanon over remarks made by a Lebanese government minister over a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

In response, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states recalled their ambassadors from Lebanon. The Saudi government also imposed a ban on imports from Lebanon, which is already in a severe economic crisis.

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On Friday, Lebanese Information Minister George Kurdahi, who had implied in a televised interview that the Saudi campaign in Yemen amounted to “foreign aggression,” resigned in an attempt to ease the row.

Macron said France and Saudi Arabia wanted to support the Lebanese people and provide energy, food and humanitarian help. “This way the government should get a basis for normal work and reforms,” he added.

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Saturday’s talks also addressed the contested nuclear programme of Iran, which is Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.

Macron said there should be no nuclear weapons in Iran, but added that the situation should not escalate in the short term.

His visit to Saudi Arabia is part of a Gulf trip that already took him to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

On Friday, Macron defended his trip as critics accused the French president of legitimizing a regime responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.

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Macron insisted that the trip was not about rehabilitating or endorsing the Saudi government.

According to a US intelligence report released in February 2021, Mohammed had ordered the operation to capture or kill Khashoggi. Riyadh has rejected that report as false.

Last year, Saudi Arabia hosted an online G20 summit amid concerns over the global pandemic.

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