French President Emmanuel Macron made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia on Thursday evening, where he met with the young Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salmane, amidst tensions between Ryad and Iran.
Since last weekend, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been setting the tone again. At the heart of the new tensions is the fate of Lebanon and Yemen, both in the midst of a deadly conflict in which the two heavyweights of the Middle East support opposing sides. This country on the Arabian Peninsula is the scene of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the UN.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday accused Iran of “direct aggression” after a missile fired at Ryad International Airport by Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen.
According to the Saudi news agency SPA,”the French President condemned this missile attack on Ryad by the Houthis, and underlined France’s solidarity with the Kingdom”. SPA added that Prince Salmane and Emmanuel Macron had “also discussed recent developments in the Middle East and their efforts for security and stability in the region, including through coordination in the fight against terrorism”.
No comment had yet been made on this visit from the Elysée side.
After a 24-hour visit to the United Arab Emirates, Macron announced earlier this evening in Dubai that he would travel for “two hours” to Ryad to meet the young prince, considered the strong man of Saudi Arabia.
The decision “was made early this morning,”Macron said. “It is important to talk with everyone,”he stressed, adding that France had a role “in building peace”.
“I have heard very harsh positions” expressed by Saudi Arabia “against Iran that are not in line with what I think,”Macron said.
He added,”I think it is essential to work with Saudi Arabia on regional stability, given the close bilateral relations we have.
-‘ Convincing’ –
Mr Macron also wants to preserve the agreement on Iran’s nuclear deal of 2015, by which Tehran pledged not to acquire the atomic weapon in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. This agreement has already been undermined by the questioning of it by US President Donald Trump, close to King Salmane of Saudi Arabia and his son, Prince Mohammed.
This agreement “must be preserved” but “complemented by two pillars, a negotiation on Iran’s ballistic activity, with sanctions if necessary, and a strategic discussion framing Iran’s hegemony throughout the region,”Macron said.
He said he still intended to visit Lebanon in 2018.
“I would also like to reiterate the importance of Lebanon’s stability and integrity,”Macron said, noting that “informal contacts” had been established with Mr. Hariri. He assured that the latter had not asked to come to France, while rumours were circulating in this direction.
“Very fruitful” –
Mr. Macron also described his visit to the Emirates, his first visit to the Middle East since his election, as “very fruitful”. He notably inaugurated the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first “universal museum” in the Arab world, presented as a bridge between different cultures, civilizations and religions.
Mr Macron described the Emirates as France’s “essential partner”, particularly in the field of defence, welcoming their decision to acquire two corvettes built by the Naval Group.
Although far from 6,000 km away, France maintains a “very high level operational cooperation” with the Emirates State, which has been participating since 2014 in the international coalition against the IA and is also pursuing a policy of “zero tolerance” on its territory towards Islamists.
Mr. Macron visited the more than 700 French soldiers stationed in the Emirates, some of whom are involved in operations in Iraq and Syria.
“We won in Raqa”,”this city from which the attacks” which killed 130 people in Paris on 13 November 2015 “had been planned, organized and directed,”Macron told the troops.
“And the next few weeks and months will allow us, I believe profoundly, to win militarily in the Iraqi-Syrian zone,”Macron added.
“But it will not end this fight. Stabilization over time, the fight against all residual terrorist groups will be essential complements to the inclusive, pluralist political solution that we want to see emerge in the region,”the president said.
On Thursday, Ms. Macron visited the huge Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, wearing a scarf on her hair.