Macron becomes first major Western leader to go to Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi killing

Associated Press/Aris Oikonomou

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday became the first major Western leader to go to Saudi Arabia since U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in 2018.

Macron met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom U.S. intel has implicated in Khashoggi’s murder, in the city of Jeddah, Reuters reported.

“We talked about absolutely everything, without any taboos and we were obviously able to bring up the question of human rights,” Macron said after the meeting.

“It was a direct exchange, I hope, effective. I still have the same approach of trying to preserve that channel with leaders to get tangible results,” he added.

Macron sees Saudi Arabia, to which France is a major arms supplier, as a key ally in securing a peace deal with Iran, among other regional issues, per Reuters.

Macron said the leaders talked about Iran and that he had secured a commitment from Saudi Arabia to work toward a solution for the economic crisis in Lebanon, according to Reuters. 

Due to the prominent political role played by Hezbollah, a militant Lebanese party backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia had previously imposed an import ban against Lebanon and withdrawn its ambassador from the country, The Washington Post reported. Several other states in the countries in the region have also taken punitive action against Lebanon for that reason.

Macron did not say whether Saudi Arabia would reverse those measures.

In addition to Khashoggi’s murder and a crackdown on human rights activism in the country, Saudi Arabia has also recently faced criticism for the role it has allegedly played in the civil war in Yemen, where Riyadh is believed to be backing a coalition of Houthi rebels in a conflict against the Yemeni government. According to Reuters, France has recently faced growing pressure to reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of its reported involvement in the war.

No other major Western leader has visited Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi was allegedly murdered by Saudi government agents on Crown Prince Mohammed’s approval. Other leaders have continued to hold talks with the crown prince, however, and to supply the country with weapons. The State Department in November approved the first substantial U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia since Biden took office.

Crown Prince Mohammed has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s death.

Tags Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi Emmanuel Macron Jamal Khashoggi Lebanon Saudi Arabia Yemen yemen civil war

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