French President uses Saudi trip to ease tensions with Lebanon


The French President and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia had a telephone conversation with the Lebanese Prime Minister during Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the kingdom.

The appeal was an important gesture amid an unprecedented crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

In calls with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Macron said France and Saudi Arabia have expressed their commitment to Lebanon, despite Saudi Arabia’s unease over Iran’s influence over the small Mediterranean country.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

Macron, however, did not say whether the punitive measures targeting Lebanon by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would be revoked.

The kingdom withdrew its ambassador from Lebanon last month, with several Gulf states taking similar steps to protest their frustration with Iran-backed Hezbollah’s dominance over Lebanese politics.

Riyadh has also banned imports from Lebanon.

Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, whose words sparked the crisis, resigned on Friday, paving the way for the French leader to start a dialogue with Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Kordahi had criticized the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Hezbollah-backed Mr. Kordahi had refused to resign for weeks, prolonging the crisis that has affected hundreds of Lebanese businesses.

Hezbollah has been blamed for the recent paralysis that hit the Lebanese government following the group’s disapproval during the investigation into a deadly explosion at Beirut’s main port last year.

The meeting takes place
The meeting aimed to iron out a feud with Lebanon over the war in Yemen (Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

Hezbollah has requested the dismissal of the lead judge from the investigation.

Mr. Macron said during the call that he and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had relayed “a clear message that Saudi Arabia and France want to fully engage.”

In remarks before leaving the kingdom, Mr Macron said: “We want to commit to supporting the Lebanese people and therefore do everything possible so that the trade and economic reopening can take place.

“We also want the (Lebanese) government to be able to work in a normal way and therefore meet as quickly as possible, and carry out useful reforms,” ​​he added.

It was the first call between Mr Mikati, who took office in September, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, a traditional ally of Lebanon.

Mikati said the appeal with the French and Saudi leaders “is an important step” towards restoring historic relations with Riyadh.

Emmanuel Macron and Mohammed ben Salman
Saudi Crown Prince’s reputation tarnished by murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

The French president said France and Saudi Arabia will work together to provide essential humanitarian aid to Lebanon, which is facing a series of unprecedented economic crises brought on by government failures and widespread corruption.

It was another intervention by Mr. Macron in an attempt to help Lebanon, a nation that was once a French protectorate. It was also the first call between the Saudi crown prince and the Lebanese prime minister since Najib Mikati took office in September.

Mr Macron, 43, has always maintained an open line of communication with the 36-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, including during times of international controversy.

In particular, the intervention of the French president was seen as essential in 2017 to help then Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to leave Saudi Arabia after he was allegedly forced to resign his post during a visit to Riyadh.

Emmanuel Macron
Mr Macron has visited the region in the past two days (AP)

He acknowledged this relationship with the kingdom, saying much of the future of the Gulf region lies in Saudi Arabia with its extremely young population in a country of over 30 million.

He noted the demographic, economic, historical and religious weight of Saudi Arabia, affirming for these reasons that “dialogue with Saudi Arabia is a necessity”.

Mr Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia was the latest stop on a two-day tour of three Gulf states. Concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, the multiple crises in Lebanon and the ongoing war in Yemen were expressed during the meetings.

Earlier today, Macron was in Qatar, where he praised the role of the small Gulf state in helping efforts to evacuate European citizens from Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country. during the summer.

He indicated that France and other EU countries are considering “having a site common to 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.

In Saudi Arabia, Macron met the crown prince in the Red Sea town of Jiddah, where the kingdom is hosting its very first Formula 1 race and a Justin Bieber pop concert, despite calls from the groups. defense of boycott rights.

It is the last initiative of the young crown prince to present the social reforms he inaugurated and for which he has been praised.

Simultaneously, however, the prince also carried out a pervasive 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 in Turkey. abroad.

During Mr Macron’s visit to the United Arab Emirates on Friday, France announced that the United Arab Emirates was purchasing 80 upgraded Rafale fighter jets in a deal worth € 16 billion (13, 6 billion pounds sterling), which represents the largest French arms contract for exports.

The deal has been criticized by human rights groups concerned about the UAE’s involvement in the war in Yemen.

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