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Macron in Saudi Arabia: Resolving Regional Issues!

Macron in Saudi Arabia: Resolving Regional Issues!

Saturday, 4 December, 2021 - 11:45

It is natural for those concerned in the region generally to await the outcomes of the French Saudi efforts to resolve many of the regions’ outstanding issues. True, ties between Riyadh and Paris have, to some extent, been dry and cool in previous phases, however, it seems that Paris has realized and sensed the weight of Saudi Arabia’s role in the region, which is indispensable. That has pushed it to improve ties and coordinate with the Kingdom, thus making this visit amid exceptional circumstances and regional complications, considering that the two countries’ international weight is enough to push many matters onto the path of a solution.

The French president’s visit to Saudi Arabia today comes within the context of the developments seen around the world, as well as their implications for the region, with its timing and the issues that will be discussed granting it particular significance.

The two countries’ geopolitical positions, whether Riyadh’s positions in the Gulf Cooperation Council or that of Paris in the European Union, give both an impetus to have a significant impact on global politics. Historically, French-Saudi rapprochement has undergone many decisive junctures, regardless of who had been in power, be they Socialist, de Gaullist, or right-wing. However, the most critical of these junctures came after Rafic Hariri’s assassination and Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

France’s current discourse suggests a serious transformation and genuine political maturity. It seeks to cooperate with effective partners and friends in the Gulf, as indicated by Eliysee’s positive attitude toward the meetings and dialogue recently held between Saudi and Iranian officials, describing the reduction of tensions as a development that will push towards building a stable Middle East.

In my estimation, the visit reflects France’s belief in the Kingdom’s strategic value and the Saudi diplomacy’s role and influence as the European powerhouse seeks to make breakthroughs on crises that are escalating and aggravating. We recall that the French president had called on Iran to include Saudi Arabia in the new version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program in an attempt to revive the nuclear agreement between Iran, the US, and the international community. Before his visit, Macron also called Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for a second time, asking him to play a constructive role in the nuclear talks in Vienna and for Iran to fully comply with all of the obligations stipulated by the nuclear deal, in addition to its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The French say that Saudi Arabia is a massive player in the region, adding that “it is not possible to imagine an ambitious French policy without dialogue with the Kingdom.” The French statements added that President Macron, who is being accompanied by a large delegation, will discuss “during long, in-depth talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman means for reducing tensions in the region,” as well as the Iranian nuclear deal, the state of affairs in Yemen and Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and economic and trade cooperation. They see the visit as “an opportunity to strengthen French-Saudi cooperation in AlUla, where France is playing an active role.”

The spokesman for French Defense Ministry also noted that “Paris and Riyadh are fighting together in the battle against terrorism,” stressing that his country “cooperates closely on defense with Saudi Arabia.” It is no secret that Paris is counting on the Gulf states’ cooperation in their fight against terrorism, especially with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

Macron’s visit to the Gulf, to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, will focus mainly on Libya and Lebanon, as Elysee has said. The way I see it, Saudi Arabia’s stance is clear and known to all, and it doesn’t seem like it is going to change, given that Riyadh believes there is no point or benefit in reaching out to the Lebanese state at this point. Lebanese President Aoun’s latest statements, which further demonstrated that Lebanon’s political decision is being hijacked and the deliberate effort to deepen the Lebanese crisis- to say nothing about the idea of extending his term and his silence when asked about the future of the information’s minister- have perhaps reinforced Riyadh’s view. As for Libya, France and Saudi Arabia share the same vision; elections should be held on schedule, and the mercenaries should leave.

What is important is that a Saudi-French understanding is reached. It is well known that France sees the Gulf states as critical because of their impact on its economy, as well as their importance as a forum for vitalizing its diplomatic efforts aimed at furthering its interests in the MENA region. France recognizes the political and economic weight the Kingdom has in particular, as well as its profound impact on the Arab and Islamic worlds, and it sees Saudi Arabia as the central platform through which it builds its relations with the region’s countries. If we are being frank, France and Saudi Arabia’s coordination has come to fill the void left by the US, which is no longer interested in the region, and what happens in it. Nonetheless, the two countries have similar views on an array of issues, like uniting international counter-terrorism efforts, the Iranian nuclear program, the situation in Iraq, and the political solution in Syria. All of that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, will help enhance stability in the region.

A lot more brings Riyadh and Paris together than splits them apart, as shown by their many intertwined interests in an array of fields, interests that have fostered close cooperation. The most prominent manifestations are their joint efforts to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and the scale of trade between the two countries.

The enhancement of Saudi-French ties is not necessarily against anyone. It is more a case of striving to resolve the region’s issues and create balance and a balance of power regionally and globally. Besides, Saudi Arabia is not averse to any direction its compass may take, be it East or West, so long as that direction serves its supreme interests.

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