France President makes surprise Saudi visit amid Lebanon crisis


International desk, November 10: French President Emmanuel Macron has paid an unscheduled visit to Saudi Arabia amid an escalating crisis between the kingdom and Lebanon.His trip comes days after Lebanese PM Saad Hariri resigned while in Riyadh, saying he feared for his life.

Foes Saudi Arabia and Iran have accused each other of fuelling instability in Lebanon and the wider region.

Mr 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.

The French president was in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday to open the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a spin-off of the famous Paris art museum.

Speaking there, he announced his unexpected two-hour trip to Riyadh to hold face-to-face talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and “emphasise the importance of Lebanese stability and integrity”.

“My wish is that all Lebanese political officials live freely in Lebanon… which means having a very demanding stance on those who could threaten any leader”, he added.

Saudi Arabia’s blockade on Yemen was tightened on Monday after a missile was fired from Yemen at the Saudi capital, Riyadh – which the Saudi government blamed on Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its chief backer Iran.

The missile was intercepted near the Saudi capital.

The UN has warned that Yemen faces the world’s largest famine in decades “with millions of victims” if the blockade is not lifted and aid deliveries are not resumed.

In a separate development on Thursday, Saudi Arabia told its citizens in Lebanon to leave the country immediately.

There are fears Lebanon could become embroiled in a wider regional confrontation between major Sunni power Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran.

Mr Macron is a keen supporter of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which both the Saudis and the Trump administration have heavily criticised.

Ahead of his visit, Mr 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,” he added.

But an official communiqué from his office following the visit did not mention Iran at all, French newspaper Le Monde reported.

Source: Agencies