DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The French President and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia had a joint phone call with the Lebanese Prime Minister during Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the kingdom on Saturday, in a meaningful gesture amid a unprecedented crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
In calls with 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 country. Mediterranean.
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.
The Lebanese Minister of Information, whose words sparked the crisis, resigned on Friday, paving the way for the French leader to begin dialogue with Saudi Arabia. Minister George Kordahi had criticized the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Hezbollah-backed 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. Hezbollah has requested the dismissal of the lead judge from the investigation.
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.”
“We want to commit to supporting the Lebanese people and therefore do everything possible so that the trade and economic reopening can take place,” Macron told reporters in remarks before leaving the kingdom.
“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 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.
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.
This marked another intervention by 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.
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 the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
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 underlined the demographic, economic, historical and religious weight of Saudi Arabia, affirming for these reasons that “the dialogue with Saudi Arabia is a necessity”.
Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia was the latest stop on a two-day tour of three Gulf states. Concerns over 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 out of Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country during of 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.
Throughout his visit to the Gulf, Macron’s talks also focused on resuming talks about Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, of which France is a party. France, Germany and the UK have signaled that the 2015 nuclear deal – with minor adjustments – is the way forward with Iran. The UAE and Saudi Arabia had opposed the deal negotiated with Iran, although both have since held talks with Tehran to calm tensions.
During 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 ($ 18 billion ) which represents the largest French arms contract ever for export. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups concerned about the UAE’s involvement in the war in Yemen.
El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Masha Macpherson and Sylvie Corbet contributed from Paris.