Macron hosts Saudi crown prince with oil, Iran and rights on agenda
PARIS, July 28 (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on Thursday, part of increased Western efforts to court the major oil-producing state amid the war in Ukraine and faltering talks to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
French opposition figures and human rights groups have criticised Macron’s decision to invite to dinner at the Elysee a man that Western leaders believe ordered the murder in 2018 of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
MBS’s visit to Paris comes two weeks after he held talks in Saudi Arabia with U.S. President Joe Biden. The West is keen to reset ties with the Gulf Arab oil giant as it seeks to counter the rising regional influence of Iran, Russia and China.
“The rehabilitation of the murderous Prince will be justified in France as in the United States by arguments of realpolitik. But it’s actually bargaining that predominates, let’s face it,” Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said on Twitter ahead of MBS’s visit.
France and other European countries are looking to diversify their sources of energy following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen Moscow cut gas supplies to Europe. Macron wants Riyadh, the world’s largest oil exporter, to raise production.
He also views the kingdom as vital to help forge a region-wide peace deal with Iran and also as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants from the Middle East to West Africa.
France is one of Riyadh’s main arms suppliers but has faced growing pressure to review its sales because of the humanitarian crisis – the world’s worst – unfolding in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.
Macron, who last December became the first Western leader to visit Saudi Arabia since the Khashoggi affair, has dismissed criticism of his efforts to engage MBS by saying the kingdom is too important to be ignored.
The murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked an international furore. U.S. intelligence concluded that MBS had directly approved the murder of the Washington Post columnist. The crown prince denied any role in the killing.
By John Irish
(Reporting by John IrishEditing by Gareth Jones)