Sat, Nov 11, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Macron visits Riyadh amid tensions

‘HARD POSITIONS’:The French president and the Saudi Arabian crown prince discussed developments in Lebanon, whose prime minister resigned last Saturday

AFP, RIYADH

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, meets with French President Emmanuel Macron in Riyadh on Thursday.

Photo: AFP / Saudi Royal Palace / Bandar aL-Jaloud

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday held talks with Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince as tensions between Tehran and Riyadh soar over crises in Yemen and Lebanon.

Macron, on his debut visit to the Middle East, flew in from a tour of the United Arab Emirates for his first face-to-face talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has launched a massive anti-graft crackdown on the kingdom’s elite.

The visit comes at a time of growing friction between the Sunni kingdom and Shiite Iran, which are pitted on opposite sides in Lebanon and Yemen.

“I’ve heard some very hard positions” taken by Saudi Arabia against Iran, Macron told a news conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, before his visit, adding it was important to speak to all sides and that France had a role in making peace.

In the wake of a failed missile attack against Riyadh airport last Saturday, which was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the kingdom has accused Tehran of “direct aggression.”

Iran vehemently dismissed the charge that it supplied missiles to the Houthi rebels and warned Saudi Arabia of its “might,” prompting fresh acrimony between the regional heavyweights.

“The French president condemned the Houthi missile attack on Riyadh, stressing France’s stand and solidarity with the kingdom,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The two leaders “also discussed the latest developments in the Middle East, and their efforts for security and stability in the region, including joint coordination in the fight against terrorism,” it added.

On Iran, Macron has repeatedly said that he wants to keep a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, despite opposition from US President Donald Trump.

US pressure to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal could push Tehran into deciding to build its own nuclear weapons, Macron told Time magazine in an interview.

Macron and the prince also discussed developments in Lebanon, whose prime minister Saad Hariri resigned in a shock announcement broadcast from Riyadh last Saturday, citing Iran’s “grip” on his nation and threats to his life.

Lebanon, a former French colony, has become the latest front line of the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday urged its citizens to leave Lebanon “as soon as possible” and called on them not to travel to the nation.

Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants Gebran Bassil on Thursday demanded the return of Hariri from Saudi Arabia.

Macron’s visit comes days after the prince launched what the Saudi Arabian government has dubbed a wide-ranging corruption crackdown, arresting dozens of members of the royal family, as well as ministers and businesspeople.

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