Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Emmanuel Macron hold talks in Jeddah on Saturday. AFP
France and Saudi Arabia have committed to “fully engage” to resolve a diplomatic row between the Gulf kingdom and Lebanon, visiting French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday. His announcement came after a meeting in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with Saudi Arabia’s, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Macron said that he and Prince Mohammed held a joint telephone conversation with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in an effort to resolve the crisis that was sparked in October between Beirut and several Gulf states - in particular Saudi Arabia, which had blocked imports.
Saudi Arabia and France “want to fully engage” on re-establishing relations between Riyadh and Beirut, the French president told reporters before his departure.
“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,” Macron said on Twitter.
Mohammed Pin Salman receives Emmanuel Macron in Jeddah on Saturday. Reuters
Mikati said later that the phone call was “an important step towards resuming historical brotherly relations” with Riyadh. Macron said he would speak with Lebanese President Michel Aoun by telephone on Sunday. Macron told reporters that Riyadh had committed to re-engage financially in the short-term.
“We are therefore now going to work in a very concrete way to put this together between the two of us,” he said, without providing specifics. Macron’s efforts likely received a boost by the resignation of Lebanese information minister Georges Kordahi, whose controversial remarks sparked the row. For weeks, Kordahi refused to resign, saying the comments were made before he was named minister and that he meant no offence. On Friday, he said he was resigning even though he was unconvinced that this was needed. “Lebanon is more important than George Kordahi,” he said.
“I hope that this resignation opens the window” for better relations with Gulf Arab countries. Mikati welcomed Kordahi’s resignation, saying it was “necessary” and “could open the door for tackling the problem with the brothers in the kingdom and the Gulf nations.” “I understood that the French want my resignation before Macron visits Riyadh, which would help, maybe in opening the way for dialogue,” Kordahi had said on Friday.
After accepting Kordahi’s resignation, Mikati called on his cabinet to convene and end the deadlock that has paralysed the government for weeks. The French president has spearheaded international efforts to help Lebanon out of its economic downturn, as the country’s fragile government has been struggling to secure international aid.
Macron and Prince Mohammed also discussed bilateral relations, areas of partnership and prospects for cooperation, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.
The French president’s departure from Jeddah ended his Gulf tour, which also saw him visit the UAE and Qatar.
Prince Mohammed shook hands with Macron, who wore a face mask, welcoming him at the royal palace before talks and a lunch together. Dialogue with Saudi Arabia was necessary to “work for stability in the region,” Macron said.
Macron said France had a role to play in the region. “But how can we work for regional stability and on Lebanon and many other issues while ignoring the first Gulf state in terms of geography and size?” he said, referring to the kingdom which is the Arab world’s largest economy, and the world’s biggest crude exporter.
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