PARIS: French leader Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agreed to work “to ease the effects” of the Ukraine war, Macron’s office said Friday, after talks in Paris that marked the full diplomatic rehabilitation of the Saudi leader.
Like US President Joe Biden who visited Riyadh earlier this month, Macron had been keen to secure extra oil production from the de facto Saudi leader who was a pariah in the West under recently.
A French statement made no reference to any agreement but said the two men had agreed to “intensify their cooperation to ease the effects (of the war) in Europe, the Middle East and the world”.
The dinner between the two men on Thursday evening outraged rights groups because of bin Salman’s suspected role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Western leaders snubbed the 36-year-old prince after Saudi agents killed Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
But the prince is being courted again as Europe and its allies urgently seek fresh sources of fossil fuels to replace lost Russian production.
As he left on Friday, bin Salman expressed his “deepest gratitude and appreciation for the warm reception and hospitality accorded to me and the accompanying delegation” in a statement posted online by the Saudi foreign ministry.
Macron’s decision to host the controversial royal sparked fierce criticism at home from human rights groups and left-wing opponents.
Allies of the French president defended a meeting that has been widely portrayed as a case study in “Realpolitik” — putting practical considerations above principles in foreign policy.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia is one of few countries worldwide with the capacity to increase its oil production, though its margin for maneuver is seen as limited.
“There are partners, countries that do not all share the same democratic values as France,” Public Services Minister Stanislas Guerini, a close ally of the president, told Europe 1 radio.
“But I believe it would be a mistake to not speak, to not try to make things happen,” he added.