Thursday, 18 August, 2022

Macron defies rights criticism to host Saudi strongman

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday was to host Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for talks in Paris, defying criticism the invitation is deeply inappropriate barely four years after the murder by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reports AFP.

The meeting will be seen as the latest step in the readmission of the de-facto ruler of the kingdom into the international fold, after US President Joe Biden met the man universally known as MBS earlier this month.

The topics set to feature during the meeting include energy supply as concern grows over possible power shortages due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as the nuclear programme of Riyadh’s top regional foe Iran. The talks are set to get under way at 8:30 pm (18:30 GMT), and include a working dinner at the Elysee Palace.

MBS — who is portrayed at home as a champion of social and economic reform but seen by critics as a murderous tyrant — arrives in France fresh from a trip to Greece to discuss energy ties.

I feel profoundly troubled by the visit, because of what it means for our world and what it means for Jamal (Khashoggi) and people like him, Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told AFP, describing MBS as a man who does not tolerate any dissent.

The visits mark MBS’ first trip to the EU since the murder of Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, a crime that a UN probe described as an extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible.

MBS’ reintegration into international relations cannot take place at the expense of truth and justice, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary general Christophe Deloire said in a statement.

US intelligence agencies determined that MBS had approved the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, although Riyadh denies this, blaming rogue operatives.

MBS stayed overnight at his Louis XIV chateau in Louveciennes west of Paris which MBS acquired in 2015, according to a source who asked not to be named.

Despite its name, it was only built in 2009, by a company headed by Khashoggi’s cousin Emad.

The killing of the Washington Post journalist drew outrage not just over the elimination of a prominent critic of the Saudi regime, but also for the manner in which it was carried out.

He was lured into the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018, strangled and dismembered, reportedly with a bonesaw.

The visit by MBS to France and Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia do not change the fact that MBS is anything other than a killer, said Callamard, who at the time was the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and led the independent probe.

is reception by world leaders is all the more shocking given many of them at the time expressed disgust (over the killing) and a commitment not to bring MBS back into the international community, she added.

Three rights groups, including the Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) group created by Khashoggi, on Thursday filed a criminal complaint in Paris accusing MBS of being an accomplice in the crime.French authorities should immediately open a criminal investigation against MBS, said Sarah Leah Whiston, executive director of DAWN.

MBS travelled to Turkey last month to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who after the Istanbul murder had bitterly criticised Saudi Arabia.

RSF meanwhile said at least 27 journalists remain imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.

While prominent blogger Raif Badawi was released in March, he is unable to leave the country and join his family abroad.

Despite the concern over Saudi Arabia’s rights record, the kingdom is seen by many in the West as an essential partner due to its energy resources, purchases of weaponry and staunch opposition to Iran’s theocratic regime.

There has also been criticism within France, with the Greens presidential candidate Yannick Jadot asking will Khashoggi’s dismembered body be on the menu Climate Human rights

No — it will be oil and weapons. The exact opposite of what should be done.

The French president had already travelled to the kingdom in December 2021 for talks with MBS, a visit that raised some eyebrows at the time.

Macron will be meeting MBS fresh from talks last week in Paris with two close allies of the kingdom, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

The red carpet welcome for both leaders dismayed activists.

The war in Ukraine has put the energy-producing countries back in the spotlight, and they are taking advantage of it, said Camille Lons, research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).