French President Emmanuel Macron will receive Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Paris on Friday, in an effort to push the de facto ruler of the oil-rich kingdom to provide greater support to Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion and to find a solution to the presidential crisis in Lebanon.
The visit of the 37-year-old crown prince highlights the good relationship between Paris and Riyadh, and comes less than a year after his previous visit to the Elysee Palace, which angered human rights activists over the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
And the French presidency announced that the talks would start at 11:15 GMT and would focus on bilateral relations as well as on “challenges of regional stability.”
The two men discuss “major international issues, including the war in Ukraine and its repercussions for the rest of the world.”
Saudi Arabia distances itself to some extent in the Ukrainian file, and has called for an end to the war.
Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attended part of the Arab League summit hosted by the Kingdom in Jeddah, in his first visit to the Middle East since the start of the Russian invasion of his country.
At that time, Macron placed a French government plane in the service of Zelensky, which took him to Jeddah and then to Japan to participate in the G7 summit.
Riyadh had voted in favor of Security Council resolutions condemning the Russian invasion and Moscow’s annexation of regions in eastern Ukraine, but at the same time it continued to coordinate closely with Russia on oil policies.
It brokered a prisoner exchange between Kiev and Moscow.
Macron is publicly seeking to persuade non-aligned countries such as China and India, as well as Saudi Arabia, to pressure Moscow to end its war on Ukraine.
And the French President believed that Zelensky’s visit to Jeddah allowed “obtaining very clear support from Saudi Arabia and other major powers in the region.”
Saudi influence in Lebanon
While in France, bin Salman will participate in the “For a New Global Financial Pact” summit that Macron is organizing in Paris on June 22-23.
The French President will discuss with his guest the preparations for this summit aimed at “collecting and focusing private and public funding where the world and people need it most to fight poverty, lead the necessary climate change and protect biodiversity,” according to the French side.
The crown prince owns a luxurious home near Versailles in the Parisian region, which was designed by a relative of Khashoggi in the style of French royal palaces.
On the other hand, it is expected that the French president will ask the crown prince to use Saudi Arabia’s influence in Lebanon to break the political stalemate that led to the parliament’s repeated failure to elect a new president for the republic, the last of which was on Wednesday, amid an intensifying political division between Hezbollah and its opponents that threatens to prolong the presidential vacancy. , on the impact of an economic collapse that the World Bank ranked among the worst in the world since 1850.
And the French President appointed former Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as a “special envoy to Lebanon” to try to help find a way out of the political impasse. The veteran politician is expected to visit Beirut soon.
Researcher Denny Bouchard, advisor for Middle East affairs at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri), notes that Riyadh may “play a role to mitigate Hezbollah’s position, through Iran, to reach a compromise” regarding the presidency in Lebanon. “The issue is whether the reconciliation of Saudi Arabia and Iran can contribute to calming the political arena in Lebanon,” he added.
Last March, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced the resumption of their diplomatic relations in a surprising agreement concluded under the auspices of China, which raised hopes of resolving several regional files.
The previous visit of the Crown Prince to Paris sparked much criticism in France by human rights organizations and left-wing opponents, who accused Macron of sacrificing human rights in favor of “pragmatism” regarding the rise in energy prices.
A CIA report concluded that the crown prince “authorized” the killing of Khashoggi, but Riyadh denies this.
Despite the social and economic reforms implemented by Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his country, he is being criticized for a crackdown on activists and opponents, even from within the ruling family.
Khashoggi’s murder damaged his image as a reformer on the international stage.
Bin Salman will also participate next Monday in an official reception organized by the Kingdom on the occasion of Riyadh’s official candidacy to host Expo 2030, an issue in which Riyadh wants to obtain French support.