By Arab News
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “rapid end to the institutional political vacuum in Lebanon” on Friday.
Lebanese lawmakers on Wednesday failed for a 12th time to elect a new president, as bitter divisions between the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its opponents risk miring the country in a protracted power vacuum.
The prolonged absence of a president “remains the major obstacle to resolving the country’s severe socio-economic crisis,” the French presidency said after the meeting between the president and Prince Mohammed in Paris.
The crown prince and Macron also “reiterated their shared commitment to security and stability in the Near and Middle East and expressed their desire to pursue their joint efforts to bring about a lasting easing of tensions,” a statement said.
The two intend to “develop and deepen the partnership between the two countries,” it added.
France will be prepared “to support Saudi Arabia in strengthening its defense capabilities” Macron said and he stressed “the willingness of French companies to continue to support Saudi Arabia in implementing its ambitious Vision 2030.”
The meeting followed the recent announcement of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, an event that caught France’s attention. The Elysee responded to it by saying “there is in this normalization of diplomatic relations with Iran a potential for easing tensions in the region that must be verified.”
In the view of the French, “the issue is not so much the normalization of relations with Iran but the demonstration of what Iran and Saudi Arabia together can make of this normalization on certain subjects where the two countries have so far been opposed.”
Therefore, the meeting offered a chance to review the effects this normalization could have on the main issues of common interest between France and Saudi Arabia, in particular the situations in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and the ongoing saga of the Iran nuclear deal.
On the situation in Syria, ahead of the meeting the French President was said to be “interested in hearing the crown prince tell him how to get President Bashar Assad to comply with a number of Saudi demands, the details of which are not yet known,” the Elysee said.
Iran’s nuclear program was expected to be discussed as “it is important for us to hear the crown prince’s assessment of the intensity of the Iranian threat as he perceives it and what he expects from the restoration of diplomatic relations, as well as how he intends to deal with the Iranians on this issue.”
Outside of the region, the war in Ukraine was expected not to be overlooked despite the density of topics on the agenda. On the issue, Paris said it “does not have specific requests to make to Saudi Arabia, apart from the request made to all our partners to fully consider the fact that the war in Ukraine is a conflict with global implications and risks repercussions throughout the world, including the Middle East.”
It added: “What we ask the Saudis, like all our partners, is to help us speed up the end of the war,” which from a French viewpoint would mean victory for Ukraine on the ground, leading to peace negotiations with Russia aimed at restoring Ukrainian security and sovereignty.
In a broader context, the Elysee notes the crown prince’s visit, which takes place at his request, “aims to define the objectives of bilateral cooperation that are necessary for the partnership we have with Saudi Arabia in perfectly identified areas.”
These areas include issues related to security and defense, and the energy transition, in particular the Kingdom’s lofty ambitions in terms of energy.
Regarding Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the Expo 2030, a decision on which is not due until autumn next year, France has already announced its support. It remains to be revealed whether the crown prince will attend the summit, organized by France, to discuss a new Global Financing Pact, which us due to take place on June 22 and 23.
During the gathering, Macron aims to assemble a broad coalition of willing countries to “produce the necessary funding shock to address both the needs of poverty reduction in the South, and as fair a green transition as possible,” the Elysee said.