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Macron hosts Saudi crown prince for Ukraine, Mideast talks

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for talks focused on the Middle East and the war in Ukraine on Friday.

Macron will press bin Salman, also known as MBS, to use his influence on Russia during a one-to-one lunch at the Elysée Palace, according to an official at the presidential palace who was not authorized to speak publicly.

MBS is spending a week in Paris, during which he is expected to participate in the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact and attend a reception in the French capital next Monday supporting Saudi Arabia’s candidacy to host the Expo 2030 world’s fair.

Bin Salman’s visit and the length of the stay have drawn sharp rebuke from NGOs campaigning against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, and in the wake of the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 — reportedly ordered by MBS himself. Human rights organizations also criticized Macron’s role in helping normalize the Saudi prince’s standing in the diplomatic sphere following international uproar over Khashoggi’s killing.

“Macron has been the main architect of the rehabilitation of the Saudi prince since 2018,” said the general secretary of Amnesty France, Agnès Callamard, in an interview with AFP, adding that Macron should do “everything he could” to save several young Saudis on death row.

The Elysée official however denied France was helping normalize MBS given that he has already been received in several Western capitals and has had meetings with global leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden. Macron and bin Salman met for a working dinner last July.

On the war in Ukraine, Saudi Arabia has in the past struck an ambiguous line, voting in favor of U.N. resolutions condemning Russia’s aggression, but also resisting U.S. calls to increase oil production, which would eat into Russia’s oil revenues.

But according to the Elysée, Saudi Arabia has shown it has “moved” on this issue.

“What we are asking … is that [Saudi Arabia] helps us accelerate a Ukrainian victory, which would lead to talks between Ukraine and Russia … On the basis of conversations, we know they share this vision,” said the same official from the Elysée in a briefing with reporters.

The talks between Macron and bin Salman will also focus on the renewed relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and how these might help resolve tensions in Lebanon

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