Saturday 17 August 2019

France's Macron heads to Riyadh from UAE in surprise trip

French President Emmanuel Macron made a surprise trip to Saudi Arabia on Thursday night (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
French President Emmanuel Macron made a surprise trip to Saudi Arabia on Thursday night (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

French President Emmanuel Macron made a surprise trip on Thursday night to Saudi Arabia, saying he wanted to speak to the kingdom's young, assertive crown prince about Iran and the war in Yemen.

Mr Macron said he made the decision earlier in the morning about heading to Saudi Arabia, in part over Shiite rebels in Yemen launching a ballistic missile that targeted Riyadh, the kingdom's capital.

He bluntly blamed Iran for the attack, saying that while he still supported Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, a new agreement needed to be reached over Iran's missile program.

"The missile which was intercepted by Saudi Arabia launched from Yemen, which obviously is an Iranian missile, shows precisely the strength of their" program, Mr Macron told journalists at a news conference held at a French school in Dubai.

Iranian state media did not immediately report the remarks. Iranian officials, while backing the Shiite rebels known as Houthis in Yemen, have denied directly arming them.

Mr Macron met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman late Thursday night and "expressed France's condemnation of targeting Riyadh city by a ballistic missile," according to a report on the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The ballistic missile launched on Saturday night flew near Riyadh's international airport before Saudi officials said they shot it down.

By early Monday, the kingdom responded by closing off Yemen's land, sea and air ports and warning Iran the rebel missile launch could be "considered as an act of war".

"I believe it's important that we work with Saudi Arabia for the purpose of guaranteeing stability in the region and the fight against terrorism," Mr Macron also said in the UAE.

Mr Macron noticeably did not mention Saudi King Salman in his remarks on Thursday night and Saudi officials reported no meeting between the two.

It suggests France believes the king's 32-year-old son, Prince Mohammed, now controls the levers of power in the kingdom amid rumours his father may abdicate.

Macron also was careful not to criticise an ongoing campaign of arrests in the kingdom in what it describes as an anti-corruption push.

Saudi critics and experts have called the unprecedented purge of top princes and businessmen a bold and risky move by the crown prince aimed at consolidating his control of the oil-rich, ultraconservative nation.

Despite criticising Iran, Mr Macron stressed France still stood by the nuclear deal, which now is under threat over President Donald Trump's refusal to re-certify the accord.

"If we were to walk away from it, it would lead to either immediate war or an absence of control which would inevitably lead to a North Korean-situation, which I could not accept," Mr Macron said.

The surprise trip to Saudi Arabia came at the end of a two-day trip by Macron to the United Arab Emirates.


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