Macron says meeting not 'endorsement' of Saudi crown prince
French president meets crown prince on last day of Gulf tour
President Emmanuel Macron’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday, the final day of his Gulf tour, sparked an uproar back home in France.
Macron is the first European leader to visit Jeddah and meet the crown prince, who is suspected of being responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Visuals of the meeting: a smiling Macron greeting and shaking hands with MBS in the royal palace in Jeddah, sparked controversy.
Human rights organizations claimed the meeting was the way of "rehabilitating" the crown prince said to be diplomatically abandoned by world leaders since Khashoggi’s killing in 2018.
Antoine Madelin, director of advocacy at the International Federation for Human Rights, told FranceInfo news that the meeting was “shocking” in nature as France was playing a direct role in “rehabilitating” the crown prince’s tarnished image.
Macron, however, defended the meeting in a media interaction, saying it was necessary to engage with Saudi Arabia on issues of security and stability in the region as it is an important country in the Gulf.
“This doesn't mean I accept it, doesn't mean I’ve forgotten it or I endorse it,” he said, alluding to the murder.
In the meeting, Macron said, he spoke on all issues. “We talked about absolutely everything without any taboos. We were able to tackle the issue of human rights (…) We spoke in a direct and I hope effective way."
Macron last met the crown prince on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina in 2018, shortly after the journalist's killing.
Western leaders and European officials have avoided official meetings and public interactions wary of invoking criticism. Several states including France had also imposed sanctions, including travel bans, on Saudi individuals linked to the murder.
According to reports by the UN and other independent organizations, Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered. MBS accepted responsibility for the killing but denied ordering it.