In Khashoggi’s shadow, Frenchman Emmanuel Macron is preparing to meet with the Saudi crown prince – .

In Khashoggi’s shadow, Frenchman Emmanuel Macron is preparing to meet with the Saudi crown prince – .

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to sit down with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, making him the first major Western leader to set foot in the country since the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday for face-to-face talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, becoming the first major Western leader to set foot on the kingdom since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Macron considers Saudi Arabia vital in helping forge a regional peace deal with Iran, as well as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants from the Middle East to West Africa, and a bulwark against the Muslim Brotherhood.

France is one of Saudi Arabia’s main arms suppliers, but it is under increasing pressure to review sales due to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in the past. Yemen, today one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

While relations between Paris and Riyadh were warmer under Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande, France has not reaped the fruits of business. The relationship has cooled in recent years despite Macron, before Khashoggi’s murder, urging critics to give the standby leader, then 33, time.

A delegation of companies of a hundred companies including TotalEnergies, EDF, Thales and Vivendi must participate in an investment forum during Macron’s visit.

Speaking to reporters in Dubai, Macron dismissed accusations he legitimized the crown prince, adding that the region’s multiple crises cannot be addressed by ignoring the kingdom.

“We (can) decide after the Khashoggi affair that we don’t have a policy in the region, which is a choice that some can defend, but I think that France has an important role to play in the region. This does not mean that we are accomplices or that we forget, ”Macron said.

Recent contracts have been few in number, most focusing on the Al-Ula tourism project which aims to revive the kingdom’s Nabataean history, as part of Saudi Arabia’s campaign to diversify to wean its economy. oil revenues.

Macron’s visit comes at a time when the Arab Gulf states have expressed uncertainty over the US focus on the region even as it seeks more weapons in Washington.

Saudi Arabia has been frustrated by the approach of the administration of US President Joe Biden, which pressured Riyadh over its human rights record and the war in Yemen and released intelligence linking bin Salman to the murder from Khashoggi.

The crown prince has denied any involvement in the journalist’s murder at the Istanbul consulate in Riyadh, an incident that has sparked global outrage and tarnished Prince Mohammed’s image.

“Whether this is the objective or not, (this trip) contributes to a policy of rehabilitation of the Saudi prince”, declared Agnès Callamard, secretary general of the group for the defense of rights Amnesty International. “It pains me that France, a country of human rights, is the instrument of this policy.

Macron is the first major Western head of state to visit Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s murder and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, which dashed Riyadh’s hopes of hosting G20 leaders during his presidency in 2020.

The two men are expected to discuss regional issues, including the Iranian nuclear issue and Lebanon, where Macron has so far failed to convince Arab Gulf states, wary of the weight of Iran-backed Hezbollah, to commit to trying to find a solution.

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