War in Ukraine ‘changed the equation’ between the West and Saudi crown prince
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French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on Thursday for a working dinner and talks at the Elysée Palace. The meeting comes as Western nations seek to diversify their oil supplies amid the war in Ukraine and revive a nuclear deal with Iran. Macron has indicated that he intends to raise the subject of human rights with MBS amid criticism from rights groups over the visit.
Paris is the second stop of MBS’s first European Union visit since the 2018 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. It is seen as the latest attempt by Western powers to rehabilitate Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, who US intelligence concluded had “approved” the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, and revitalize their relations with the oil-producing country.
France and other EU countries have been set on diversifying their energy sources since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and as Russian energy giant Gazprom has slashed gas deliveries to Europe. Macron, along with US President Joe Biden, wants Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, to boost production and stabilize prices.
French opposition figures and human rights groups have criticized Macron’s decision to host MBS. Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard tweeted ahead of the crown prince’s visit that “the rehabilitation of the murderous prince will be justified in France as in the United States by arguments of realpolitik. But it’s actually bargaining that predominates, let’s face it”.
A senior aide to Macron said Thursday on condition of anonymity that “the president will raise the issue of human rights as he does on each occasion with Mohammed bin Salman. He will talk about it in a general way, but will also take the chance to raise individual cases.”
The official added that the two leaders will also discuss oil production and the Iran nuclear deal.
Fatima Abo Alasrar, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, spoke with FRANCE 24 about the controversy surrounding MBS’ visit to Paris.