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France's Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

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By AP with Euronews
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greets French President Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia,  Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greets French President Emmanuel Macron upon his arrival in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.   -   Copyright  Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP

French President Emmanuel Macron met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday for the final leg of a two-day Gulf tour.

The pair held a joint phone call with Lebanon’s prime minister in a significant gesture amid an unprecedented crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

During the calls with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Macron said France and Saudi Arabia expressed their commitment to Lebanon, despite Saudi Arabia's uneasiness with Iran’s sway over the small Mediterranean country.

Macron did not, however, say whether punitive measures targeting Lebanon by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations will be revoked. 

Macron said during the call that he and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman relayed "a clear message Saudi Arabia and France want to be fully committed."

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 call with the French and Saudi leaders "is an important step" toward restoring historic relations with Riyadh.

The French president indicated that France and Saudi Arabia will work together to offer essential, humanitarian assistance to Lebanon. 

It marked another intervention by Macron to try and aid Lebanon, a nation that was once a French protectorate. 

Afghanistan in focus

Macron met the crown prince in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, where the kingdom is in the midst of hosting its first-ever Formula One race and a pop concert by Justin Bieber, despite calls by rights groups for a boycott.

It's the latest push by the young crown prince to showcase the social reforms he's ushered in and been hailed for.

Simultaneously, though, the prince has also spearheaded a pervasive crackdown on human rights activists and critics, culminating in the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018 in Turkey, an operation that stained the prince's reputation abroad.

Macron, 43, has consistently kept a line of communication open with the 36-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, including during times of international controversy.

Earlier in the day, Macron was in Qatar, where he told reporters that France and a number of European nations were considering opening a joint diplomatic mission in Afghanistan.

Macron said France and other EU countries are thinking about "having a common site to several European countries where our ambassadors or chargés d’affaires can be present" in Afghanistan. 

He stressed this would not signal political recognition or political dialogue with the Taliban.

Reviving Iran talks

Throughout his meetings in the Gulf, Macron's talks have also focused on the revived talks regarding Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, of which France is a party to.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom have signalled the 2015 nuclear agreement — with minor tweaks — is the way forward with Iran. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia had opposed the negotiated deal with Iran, though both have since held talks with Tehran to cool tensions.

During Macron's visit to the UAE on Friday, France announced the UAE is buying 80 upgraded Rafale warplanes in a deal worth 16 billion euros and represents the largest-ever French weapons contract for export. The deal faced criticism by human rights groups concerned about the UAE’s involvement in the war in Yemen.