JEDDAH: France and Saudi Arabia have committed to “fully engage” to resolve a diplomatic row between the Gulf kingdom and Lebanon, visiting French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday.
His announcement came after meeting in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Macron said he had a “no taboos” discussion about human rights.
Macron said that he and Prince Mohammed held a joint telephone conversation with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in an effort to resolve the crisis that was sparked in October between Beirut and several Gulf states — in particular Saudi Arabia, which had blocked imports.
Saudi Arabia and France “want to fully engage” on re-establishing relations between Riyadh and Beirut, the French president told reporters before his departure.
“With Saudi Arabia, we have made commitments towards Lebanon: to work together, to support reforms, to enable the country to emerge from the crisis and preserve its sovereignty,” Macron said on Twitter.
Mikati said later that the phone call was “an important step towards resuming historical brotherly relations” with Riyadh.
Macron said he would speak with Lebanese President Michel Aoun by telephone on Sunday. The Gulf dispute has exacerbated an already dire situation in Lebanon, which is in the grip of a deep economic and financial crisis.
Macron’s efforts likely received a boost by the resignation of Lebanese information minister Georges Kordahi, whose remarks on the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen sparked the row.
The French president has spearheaded international efforts to help Lebanon out of its economic downturn, as the country’s fragile government has been struggling to secure international aid, particularly from wealthy Arab powers.
Lebanon’s ties with Gulf states have also grown increasingly strained in recent years due to the growing influence of Iran-backed Lebanese movement Hezbollah.
Macron and Prince Mohammed also discussed bilateral relations, areas of partnership and prospects for cooperation, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
The French president’s departure from Jeddah ended his Gulf tour, which also saw him visit the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
He became one of the first Western leaders to meet with Prince Mohammed in the kingdom since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate in 2018. The killing by Saudi agents severely tarnished Prince Mohammed’s international image.
Prince Mohammed shook hands with Macron, who wore a face mask, welcoming him at the royal palace before talks and a lunch together. Dialogue with Saudi Arabia was necessary to “work for stability in the region”, Macron said on Friday.
However, he added in a reference to the Khashoggi murder that “it doesn’t mean that I endorse anything”. “I note that Saudi Arabia had organised the G20 summit... not many powers boycotted the G20,” despite the Khashoggi affair, said Macron.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2021