France's Macron says Saudi Arabia committed to supporting Lebanon

French president held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during visit to Jeddah on Saturday

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France and Saudi Arabia assured Lebanon of their support during a call to the Lebanese prime minister, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday after meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah.

Mr Macron told reporters that he and Prince Mohammed called Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati to stress that Paris and Riyadh were committed to supporting the crisis-hit country.

The French president's remarks suggest a thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon after a diplomatic crisis sparked by critical remarks from former Lebanese information minister George Kordahi, who stepped down on Friday.

The French president was in Jeddah on the final stop of a two-day Gulf tour that began in the UAE, where the two countries announced agreements worth billions of dollars.

Mr Macron was received by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces in Dubai, where the two leaders toured the Expo 2020 site.

One of the highlights of Mr Macron’s visit was a deal worth almost $19 billion for France to supply the UAE with 80 Rafale fighter jets and 12 H225 helicopters. Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company also announced two agreements to increase investment in priority sectors in France by up to $3.6bn.

The French president was accompanied by a business delegation of about 100 companies, including TotalEnergies, EDF, Thales and Vivendi.

Mr Macron, who arrived in Jeddah after a stop in Qatar, said that he and the Saudi crown prince had "worked a lot" on the issue of assisting Lebanon.

“We want to intervene to help the Lebanese people and do all we can to reopen economic and trade exchange, whether it comes to supplying energy, providing foodstuff or humanitarian aid, these issues are urgent for the people," he said.

"Our goal is for the government to operate normally and meet as soon as possible to carry out crucial reforms."

"I will speak to President Michel Aoun tomorrow as soon as I return to Paris."

Saudi Arabia expelled Lebanon's envoy to the kingdom, recalled its ambassador to Beirut and banned Lebanese imports after the comments by Mr Kordahi. The UAE and Bahrain took similar steps.

Mr Macron considers Saudi Arabia vital to stabilise regional tensions with Iran, as well as an ally in the fight against extremists from the Middle East to West Africa, where France is leading an international counterinsurgency operation in the Sahel region.

Aside from longstanding energy and defence co-operation, both countries are expanding ties to cover transport and renewable energy – French company Alstom is working on the Riyadh Metro project, which will involve 176 kilometres of rail line and 85 stations, while French energy company EDF has worked on a 300-megawatt solar power plant and a 400MW wind farm.

In pictures: French ambassador Ludovic Pouille visits AlUla

Mr Macron last visited Saudi Arabia in November 2017, when Lebanon’s crisis of government was in its early days, amid a massive influx of refugees and increasing national debt.

The continuing economic and political crisis in Lebanon and the need to de-escalate regional tensions are expected to top the meeting's agenda.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia's exports to France were worth more than $6 billion a year, while France exported $3.5bn of goods to the kingdom.

France-Saudi co-operation has in recent years centred on the AlUla tourism project, part of the country’s drive to bring to life the kingdom's Nabatean history as Saudi Arabia promotes tourism to diversify its oil-based economy.

In April, Franck Riester, French Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness, said France planned to expand co-operation to further sectors, including tech and collaboration on smart cities.

Updated: December 04, 2021, 5:38 PM