French leader Macron meets Saudi Crown Prince as Saudi-Iran tensions soar

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) receiving French President Emmanuel Macron in the capital Riyadh
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) receiving French President Emmanuel Macron in the capital RiyadhPHOTO: AFP

RIYADH (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron held talks with Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince as tensions between Teheran and Riyadh soar over crises in Yemen and Lebanon.

Macron, on his debut visit to the Middle East, flew in from a tour of the United Arab Emirates for his first face-to-face talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who recently launched a massive anti-graft crackdown on the kingdom's elite.

The visit on Thursday (Nov 9) comes at a time of growing friction between the Sunni kingdom and Shiite Iran, which are pitted on opposite sides in Lebanon and Yemen.

"I've heard some very hard positions" taken by Saudi Arabia against Iran, Macron told a news conference in Dubai before his visit, adding it was important to speak to all sides and that France had a role in making peace.

In the wake of a failed missile attack against Riyadh airport on Saturday, which was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the kingdom has accused Teheran of "direct aggression".

Iran vehemently dismissed the charge that it supplied missiles to the Houthis and warned Saudi Arabia of its "might", prompting fresh acrimony between the regional heavyweights.

"The French president condemned the Huthi missile attack on Riyadh, stressing France's stand and solidarity with the Kingdom," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

The two leaders "also discussed the latest developments in the Middle East and their efforts for security and stability in the region, including joint coordination in the fight against terrorism," it added.

On Iran, Macron has repeatedly said that he wanted to keep the landmark 2015 nuclear deal despite opposition from US President Donald Trump.

US pressure to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal could push Teheran into deciding to build its own nuclear weapons, Macron told Time magazine in an interview published on Thursday.

Macron and Prince Mohammed also discussed developments in Lebanon, whose prime minister Saad Hariri resigned in a shock announcement broadcast from Riyadh on Saturday, citing Iran's "grip" on his country and threats to his life.

Lebanon, a former French colony, has become the latest front line of the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday urged its citizens to leave Lebanon "as soon as possible" and also called on them not to travel to the country, without specifying any threat.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Thursday demanded the return of Hariri from Saudi Arabia, amid media reports that he was being held in the kingdom.

Macron's visit comes days after Prince Mohammed launched what the Saudi government has dubbed a wide-ranging corruption crackdown, arresting dozens of members of the royal family as well as ministers and businessmen.