Saudi crown prince's global 'charm offensive' continues in France

Saudi crown prince's global 'charm offensive' continues in France
Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman has arrived in France where President Emmanuel Macron is under pressure to press MbS on atrocities in Yemen.
3 min read
08 April, 2018
Mohammad bin Salman was greeted by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian [Getty]
Saudi Arabia's crown prince arrived in France on Sunday for the next leg of a global tour aimed at promoting a modern and progressive image of the conservative kingdom.

De facto leader bin Salman will meet French President Emmanuel Macron during his two-day official visit starting on Monday.

The trip follows a coast-to-coast tour of the US as well as visits to the UK and Egypt, where the prince courted a host of business tycoons, as well as ex-presidents, and struck multimillion-dollar deals from defence to entertainment.

Protests have also followed the 32-year-old prince, who also holds the position of defence minister, over the ongoing Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen which has devastated the country and killed thousands of civilians.

The prince is also accused of orchestrating a crackdown on opposition in the kingdom, including rounding up politicians and businessman on trumped up corruption charges.

Prince Mohammad - widely known as MbS - was received at the Bourget airport near Paris on Sunday morning by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Macron will walk a diplomatic tightrope with the young prince in talks set to focus on cultural ties and investments.

Human rights groups have urged Macron to pressure the prince over his country's campaign in Yemen, claiming it is exacerbating a humanitarian crisis.

France is a major arms vendor to Saudi Arabia and separate rights groups have accused the country of doing too little to ensure that its weapons are not used in the Saudi military campaign.

As well as a raft of memorandums of understanding in energy, agriculture, tourism and culture set to be signed, a Franco-Saudi cooperation deal to develop al-Ula, a Saudi city richly endowed with archeological remnants, is also expected to be a central highlight of the visit, an AFP source said.

The prince is also considering a visit to the Paris-based tech start-up campus Station F, the Arab World Institute and a concert in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence, the source said.

"This is not a traditional state visit," another source close to the Saudi delegation told AFP.

"It is about forging a new partnership with France, not just shopping for deals."

Macron's office said the trip would also focus on investment in the digital economy as well as renewable energy, as the world's top crude exporter pumps billions of dollars in the sector in a bid to diversify its economy.

But the trip follows a period of underlying tensions, with Macron seeking to bolster ties with the Arab world's biggest economy while also managing other relationships with Middle Eastern nations.

Macron waded into a regional crisis last November when Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri tendered his resignation on live television from Riyadh, apparently under pressure from the crown prince.

Macron invited Hariri to Paris for talks and he has since rescinded his resignation, a development that analysts say exposed the limits of the prince's authority.