04/11/2018, 15.46
FRANCE – SAUDI ARABIA

Mohammad bin Salman and Macron: hugs and billion-dollar deals

France has given its full support for the Saudi position on Yemen, slamming Houthi rebels. On Syria, the Saudis are ready to "step up" if requested by its allies. Macron acknowledges Saudi concerns over Iran. Agreements worth US$ 18 billion are signed.

Paris (AsiaNews/Agencies) – As Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman flew home he took from his Paris visit a long hug, "full support" for the Saudi position in Yemen and trade deals worth US$ 18 billion.

Prince Mohammad’s three-day visit ended yesterday with a dinner at the Louvre which included Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The meeting between the three leaders is significant given events in November.  During a visit to Riyadh, Hariri resigned as prime minister, slamming Hezbollah and Iran, historical rival of the Saudi kingdom, for their influence in Lebanon.

At the time, Lebanese authorities accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri against his will. The diplomatic crisis was eventually settled with Macron’s mediation, followed by Hariri rescinding his resignation and a trip of the Lebanese prime minister to Paris.

In recent months, Macron and Prince Mohammad have developed an "excellent" personal relationship, confirmed during the visit - before dinner – by a visit to the Delacroix exhibition at the Louvre.

On this occasion, the Saudi prince, who is trying to promote an image of himself as a reformer and a moderniser, praised the famous painting Liberty leading the people.

The good state of Franco-Saudi relations was also highlighted by the position taken by the French president on sensitive issues like the conflict in Yemen, which has been torn apart by civil war since January 2015 pitting Saudi-backed former president Hadi and Houthi rebels, who are close to Iran and Hezbollah.

Standing next to his guest, the French President Emmanuel Macron announced yesterday that Paris would host a conference over humanitarian the crisis unfolding in Yemen.

Macron used this occasion to express France’s “full support” for Saudi security, slamming Houthi rocket attacks. He also reiterated support “for a political solution to the conflict and the great humanitarian need of the civilian population."

The French president and the Saudi prince also discussed other sensitive topics, like the war in Syria, Lebanon’s upcoming elections and Iran.

On Syria the two leaders share the same view as US President Donald Trump, condemning the government of Bashar al-Assad, which has been blamed for the Douma chemical attack, in which dozens of people died.

Paris is looking into possible military action coordinated with the United States and the United Kingdom, against Syrian chemical capabilities.

Asked Tuesday in Paris if Riyadh would take part in strikes against the Syrian regime, Prince Mohammad said: "If our alliance with our partners calls for it, we will step up."

Conversely, on Iran, Riyadh has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with French support for the nuclear agreement.

Yesterday, Macron acknowledged the concerns of his “close friend", who for his part admitted that the two sides share a "common vision despite tactical differences".

The two leaders did not forget business. The two countries inked trade agreements worth US$ 18 billion with possibly more to follow.

One includes a US$ 5 billion petrochemical project between the French company Total and Saudi Aramco.

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