France to resolve diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon

France to resolve diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon

Dec 5, 2021: France and Saudi Arabia have pledged to be “fully engaged” in resolving the diplomatic dispute between the Kingdom and Lebanon, said visiting French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday.

His announcement came after a meeting in Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, with whom Macron said he had a “no taboo” talks on human rights. 

Macron said he and Prince Mohammed had a joint telephone conversation with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resolve the October crisis between Beirut and several Gulf states – particularly Saudi Arabia which stopped imports.

The French president told reporters before his departure that Saudi Arabia and France wanted to be “fully engaged” in restoring relations between Riyadh and Beirut.

In a tweet, Macron wrote, “With Saudi Arabia, we have made commitments towards Lebanon: to work together, to support reforms, to enable the country to emerge from the crisis and preserve its sovereignty,”

Mikati later said the phone call was an “important step towards restoring historic fraternal ties” with Riyadh.

Macron said he would speak to Lebanese President Michel Aoun by telephone on Sunday. The Gulf conflict has exacerbated the already dire situation in Lebanon, which is in the midst of a deep economic and financial crisis. Macron’s efforts may have been fueled by the resignation of Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, whose comments about the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen sparked controversy.

The French president has led international efforts to lift Lebanon out of its economic woes, as the country’s fragile government struggles for international aid, especially from the rich Arab powers.

Lebanon’s relations with the Gulf states have also become increasingly strained in recent years due to the growing influence of the Iranian-backed Lebanese movement Hezbollah.

According to the official Saudi Press Agency, Macron and Prince Mohammed also discussed bilateral relations, areas of partnership and prospects for cooperation. After the French president’s departure from Jeddah, his Gulf tour came to an end, during which he also visited the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Dialogue with Saudi Arabia was necessary to “work for stability in the region”, Macron said on Friday.

France’s Airbus said on Saturday it had signed an agreement to sell 26 civilian helicopters to a Saudi firm in Jeddah, while French waste management company Veolia said it had signed an agreement to supply drinking water in Riyadh. 

On Friday, the UAE signed a record 14-billion-euro ($ 15.8 billion) deal for 80 French Rafale fighter jets and pledged billions of euros in other deals during Macron’s stopover.

Criticizing the sale, Human Rights Watch said the UAE had “played a significant role in the military operations in Yemen affected by the atrocities of the Saudi-led coalition.” It says Riyadh was the largest buyer of French weapons last year.

Yemen’s both Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and allied-backed forces have been accused of failing to protect civilians during Yemen’s seven-year war. The Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 to support Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

The UAE is part of the alliance but began withdrawing troops in 2019.

From the UAE, Macron flew to Qatar, where he thanked the UAE for its efforts to expel 258 vulnerable Afghans from France via Doha after the Taliban took over the country in August.

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