War in Ukraine ‘has changed the equation’ between the West and Saudi’s MBS
French President Emmanuel Macron will receive Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on Thursday for a working dinner and talks at the Elysée Palace. The meeting comes as Western countries, including France, try to diversify their oil supplies during the war in Ukraine and revive a nuclear deal with Iran. Macron has indicated that he plans to raise the issue of human rights with MBS amid criticism from human rights groups during the visit.
Paris is the second stop of MBS’s first visit to the European Union since the 2018 assassination of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. It is seen as the latest effort by Western powers to rehabilitate the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, who, according to US intelligence, had “approved” the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, and renewed their relations with the oil-producing country. to breathe life into.
France and other EU countries have been determined to diversify their energy sources since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and Russian energy giant Gazprom cut gas supplies to Europe. Macron and US President Joe Biden want Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, to ramp up production and stabilize prices.
French opposition figures and human rights groups have criticized Macron’s decision to host MBS. Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard tweeted ahead of the crown prince’s visit that “the murderous prince’s rehabilitation in France and in the United States will be justified by realpolitik arguments. But it’s basically negotiation that predominates, let’s face it.” “.
A senior Macron aide said Thursday on condition of anonymity that “the president will raise the issue of human rights, as he does with Mohammed bin Salman on every opportunity. He will talk about it in general, but will also take the opportunity to raise individual cases.”
The official added that the two leaders will also discuss oil production and the nuclear deal with Iran.
Fatima Abo Alasrar, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, spoke to FRANCE 24 about the controversy surrounding MBS’s visit to Paris.
FRANCE 24 : Why this trip, why this rehabilitation, what has changed?
Fatima Abo Alasrar: This trip comes at a very critical time, as the war in Ukraine has really changed the political and economic situation. France, among other European countries, is trying to find other alternative energy sources and also trying to increase oil production and so we have seen many changes in the region. We have seen President Biden’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, where he indirectly requested an increase in oil production to stabilize energy resources and in fact refrain from obtaining oil wells from Russia. So it is a moment of need, a greater need that the West seems to be rearranging and reaching out to other Gulf states to bolster their own interests at home.
This is clearly a win for MBS. What does this say about responsibility on the global stage?
It’s a very complicated question. There has been some accountability, there has been a pursuit and I think France and other European countries know pretty much exactly who they are dealing with. The problem is that we use double standards everywhere. If we want to care about human rights, we have to care about everything, but there are certain exceptions. Exceptions are made for China, exceptions are made for Russia, even the United States is not completely immune. There are human rights violations in whether it’s Guantanamo Bay, whether it’s immigration issues that we see or even racial issues that we see in the United States, for example. So human rights have to be addressed, but we also have to find a way to positively influence this important category and part of this has to come by being able to talk to opponents in a certain way. But the Saudi kingdom is not necessarily an adversary, as it has a historic relationship with Europe and the United States and a positive relationship at that level.
I think it’s fair to say that MBS has been banned to some extent by the international community over the past four years. He is now clearly desperate to bolster Saudi Arabia’s regional power, especially when it comes to Iran. He wants to make his point of view very clear to the rest of the world.
MBS is really trying to build relations with the West, but at the same time the Saudis are taking more or less conciliatory notes towards Iran. They are trying to say that they are willing to work with whatever they can because Iran really has influence in the region, in the Gulf, through its militias, that fact cannot be denied. And the Saudis have really failed to deal with the threat from these militias, from a military perspective, so I think they’re looking for a diplomatic solution with other western countries because they know the threat isn’t really going away. But at the same time, they are trying to realign themselves with other Western countries to say that Iran should not be given carte blanche.
France is pushing for a nuclear deal. Do you think MBS is going to hear that message?
I don’t think the Saudis are in favor of a nuclear deal with Iran, given Iran’s hostile attitude and refusal to deal with Iran. [International Atomic Energy Agency]. So there are several factors. The Saudis are really concerned, they won’t push for it, but if the Iran deal comes through, if it goes through, then the Saudis and the Gulf States should be consulted somewhat and seen as partners in this process, rather than a entity being imposed. Therefore, the West needs to change its views slightly and realize that there is a lot at stake: the stability of the Saudi kingdom, Israel, Yemen, there are so many countries that are affected. [Western countries must ask themselves] how can we really approach this relationship from a partnership perspective rather than simply saying, here’s the deal: accept it or reject it?