Macron, Saudi prince agree to work to 'ease effects' of Ukraine war

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) greeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Paris on July 28, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) - French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agreed to work “to ease the effects” of the war in Ukraine during talks in Paris, the French presidency said on Friday (July 29).

“The President and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia underlined the need to bring an end to this conflict and intensify their cooperation to ease the effects in Europe, the Middle East and the wider world,” a statement read.

Aides to the French president indicated before the talks that Mr Macron planned to urge Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production to help bring down crude prices.

The statement made no explicit reference to oil or gas, but said Mr Macron “underlined the importance of continuing the ongoing coordination with Saudi Arabia with regards to the diversification of energy supplies for European countries”.

With Russian oil and gas supplies either unavailable to European Union nations due to sanctions or actions by Moscow, European countries are desperately seeking alternative sources of fossil fuels.

Saudi Arabia is one of few countries worldwide with the capacity to increase its output.

The French statement said Mr Macron and the man often referred to as “MBS” also discussed food security amid fears of famines caused by the loss of Ukrainian grain.

Talks over dinner by the two leaders covered regional crises, including the war in Yemen and Iran’s nuclear programme.

“With regards to the war in Yemen, the president commended the efforts by Saudi Arabia to find a political, global and inclusive solution under the aegis of the United Nations and expressed his hope that the truce continues,” the statement said.

Yemen has been gripped by conflict since the Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, triggering a Saudi-led military intervention in support of the beleaguered government the following year.

The warring parties agreed to renew a two-month truce in June.

Earlier in the day, Prince Mohammed thanked French Mr Macron for his “warm reception” during talks in Paris that have outraged rights groups.

“As I leave your friendly country, it gives me great pleasure to express to your Excellency my deepest gratitude and appreciation for the warm reception and hospitality accorded to me and the accompanying delegation,” he wrote in a message posted by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.

The dinner on Thursday (July 28) evening was the latest step in the diplomatic rehabilitation of the de-facto leader of the Saudi kingdom.

The 36-year-old became a pariah in the West following the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Prince Mohammed is being courted by Western leaders again as they urgently seek fresh sources of fossil fuels to replace lost Russian production.

US President Joe Biden travelled to Riyadh earlier this month, drawing similar criticism to that faced by Macron at home.

While Mr Biden fist-bumped Prince Mohammed in a gesture that was seized on by critics, Mr Macron shook hands on the steps of the Elysee Palace as he welcomed the prince.

“He’s shaking the hand for a long time of a man whose hands are covered in blood,” senior leftwing MP Alexis Corbiere told BFM television on Friday.

But allies of the French president defended a meeting that has been widely portrayed as a demonstration of “Realpolitik” – putting practical needs above principles in foreign policy.

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) in Paris on July 28, 2022. PHOTO: AFP/SAUDI ROYAL PALACE

Analysts say Saudi Arabia is one of few countries worldwide with the capacity to increase its oil production, though its margin for manoeuvre is seen as limited.

“There are partners, countries that do not all share the same democratic values as France,” Public Services Minister Stanislas Guerini, a close ally of the president, told Europe 1 radio on Friday.

“But I believe it would be a mistake to not speak, to not try to make things happen,” he added.

The role of the president was “to protect the French people,” he said.

“French values, the voice of France, human rights, were carried last night, as always, by the president,” he added.

The head of Amnesty International Agnes Callamard told AFP she felt “profoundly troubled by the visit”.

The killing of Khashoggi was described by a UN probe as an “extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible”.

US intelligence agencies determined that MBS had “approved” the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death. Riyadh denies this, blaming rogue operatives.

“I am scandalised and outraged that Emmanuel Macron is receiving with all the honours the executioner of my fiance, Jamal Khashoggi,” his fiancee Hatice Cengiz told AFP on Thursday.

The French president first hosted MBS in 2018, when he took him to an art exhibition at the Louvre museum, and travelled to the kingdom in December 2021 for further talks.

The Saudi strongman stayed overnight at his Louis XIV chateau in Louveciennes west of Paris which he acquired in 2015, according to a source who asked not to be named.

Despite its name, the castle was only built in 2009, by a company headed by Khashoggi’s cousin Emad, and was described as “the world’s most expensive home” at the time of purchase.

A UN report into the killing of Khashoggi on October 2, 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul said there was reason to investigate the responsibility of the prince while US intelligence said he had sanctioned it, a claim the Saudis vehemently deny.

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