Emmanuel Macron Makes Unscheduled Visit to Saudi Arabia amid Lebanon Crisis
France’s President Emmanuel Macron has made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia amid an escalating crisis between the kingdom and Lebanon.
The president’s trip comes days after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned while in Riyadh, saying he feared for his life.
Meanwhile, foes Saudi Arabia and Iran have accused each other of fuelling instability in Lebanon and the wider region.
Emmanuel Macron and Saudi officials also discussed the crisis in Yemen, where Riyadh is leading a war against rebels.
France has historical ties with Lebanon, as its former colonial power before it gained independence during World War Two.
President Macron was in the UAE on November 9 to open the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a spin-off of the famous Paris art museum.
Ahead of his two-hour visit to Riyadh, Emmanuel Macron said all Lebanese officials should live freely, “which means having a very demanding stance on those who could threaten any leader”.
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No details of the alleged plot against Saad al-Hariri have been made public.
Uncertainty surrounds Saad al-Hariri’s circumstances, amid rumors he was being held in Riyadh.
President Macron said on November 9 he had had informal contact with Saad al-Hariri, without giving details, while the French foreign minister said France believed Saad al-Hariri was able to move freely.
On November 5, Saad al-Hariri said in a TV broadcast that he was resigning because of the unspecified threat to his life.
In the video statement, Saad al-Hariri also attacked Hezbollah, which is politically and militarily powerful in Lebanon, and Iran.
There are fears Lebanon could become embroiled in a wider regional confrontation between major Sunni power Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran.
President Macron is a keen supporter of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which both the Saudis and the Trump administration have heavily criticized.
Before going to Saudi Arabia, Emmanuel Macron said that he had heard “very harsh opinions” on Iran from Saudi Arabia, which did not match his own view.
“It is important to speak with everyone,” the president added.
However, an official communiqué from his office following the visit did not say Iran was among the matters discussed, Le Monde reported.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Lebanon have soared since Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation.
On November 9, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies told their citizens in Lebanon to leave the country immediately. The move came after Saudi Arabia accused Iran of “direct military aggression”, saying it supplied a missile which it says was fired by Hezbollah at Riyadh from Yemen on November 5.
Iran has dismissed Saudi Arabia’s allegations as “false and dangerous”.