Emmanuel Macron on Saturday brokered a call between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon’s leaders in an effort to end a diplomatic dispute that led to the imposition of sanctions against Beirut by Gulf states.
The French president, the first Western leader to visit the kingdom since the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, insisted on the call during a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, during a tour intended to France se influence in the region.
Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and suspended the Lebanese envoy in October after Lebanon’s Information Minister George Kordahi criticized the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Iranian – backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. It also banned imports from Lebanon, which is enduring its worst economic crisis in decades. Other Gulf countries followed suit.
Macron said an important step had been taken with Saudi Arabia ready to become financially involved with Lebanon again after a first round of three-way talks.
“We worked together in Lebanon and we called [Lebanese] “Prime Minister Mikati together to convey the clear message from Saudi Arabia and France that we want to be fully involved,” Macron told reporters in Jeddah.
“We want to get involved so that we can help the people of Lebanon and do everything possible so that an economic and commercial opening can take place.”
Although fueled by Kordahi’s remarks, the root of the Gulf states’ dispute is the influence of Iranian – backed Hezbollah, despite billions of Saudi Arabian financial aid to Beirut over recent decades.
Kordahi said on Friday he would resign following a French request.
French officials said Saudi Arabia had agreed to send its ambassador back to Beirut, but it was not clear they would do so.
A French proposal to have Lebanese Provisional Prime Minister Najib Miqati visit Jeddah for a trilateral meeting with Macron and Prince Mohammed has been rejected.
A joint Saudi-French statement said they had agreed on a “joint mechanism” for transparent humanitarian aid to Lebanon, as well as the need to limit weapons to legitimate state institutions, a covert reference to Hezbollah.
Western leaders have avoided visits to Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi’s assassination by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. The CIA concluded Prince Mohammed should have authorized the operation. He denied any involvement in Riyadh blaming the murder on a rogue operation.
Macron set aside criticism of his visit. “Who really thinks for a moment that we can help Lebanon, that we can try to maintain the stability we are working for in the Middle East, when we say ‘we are no longer talking to Saudi Arabia’,” he said. Said in Dubai on Friday.
Macron said France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, had a role to play in the talks. “It does not mean that we approve of it or that we forget,” he said. “It does not mean we are not demanding partners.”
A French official has said that Saudi Arabia’s agreement to reconnect with Lebanon is a quid pro quo for the high-profile visit by a Western leader.
A regional official said France had increased the pressure in recent weeks. “With the upcoming French elections, it is important for him to make progress with this file,” the official said.
Macron is accompanied by a business delegation. In Dubai he announced a $ 19 billion sale of Rafale fighter jets and helicopters.
In Jeddah, the state-run Saudi Arabian Military Industries announced joint ventures with French companies Airbus and Figeac Aéro.