French President Emmanuel Macron, (right) poses with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Tuesday, April 10, 2018. (CHRISTOPHE ENA / FILE / AP)
PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday, part of increased Western efforts to court the major oil-producing state amid the Ukraine crisis and faltering talks to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
The visit to Paris by the de facto Saudi ruler, widely known as MbS, comes two weeks after he held talks in Saudi Arabia with US President Joe Biden.
Government spokesperson Olivier Veran dismissed rights groups' concerns about Macron hosting MbS, telling reporters on Thursday the French president would not set aside his country's values in talks with the Saudi leader, but that they would be held "while working to get oil access for the whole world"
France and other European countries are looking to diversify their sources of energy following the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has seen Moscow cut gas supplies to Europe. Macron wants Riyadh, the world's largest oil exporter, to raise production.
Government spokesperson Olivier Veran dismissed rights groups' concerns about Macron hosting MbS, telling reporters on Thursday the French president would not set aside his country's values in talks with the Saudi leader, but that they would be held "while working to get oil access for the whole world."
ALSO READ: Macron to meet with Saudi crown prince
Macron also views the kingdom as vital to helping forge a broader Middle East peace dialogue between Iran and US-backed adversaries despite talks to revive Tehran's 2015 nuclear accord having stalled with no signs of a possible breakthrough.
France is one of Riyadh's main arms suppliers but has faced growing pressure to review its sales because of the humanitarian crisis, the world's worst, in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since 2015.
Macron, who last December became the first Western leader to visit Saudi Arabia since the murder in 2018 of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi killing, has dismissed criticism of his efforts to engage MbS by saying the kingdom is too important to be ignored.
The killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked an international furore. US intelligence concluded that MbS had directly approved the murder of the Washington Post columnist. The crown prince denied any role in the killing.
READ MORE: S. Arabia holds off from backing action against France over cartoons
French prosecutors are studying complaints filed against MbS over the Saudi role in the Yemen war. Rights groups Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), and TRIAL International said on Thursday they had filed a new complaint asking French authorities to open an investigation into MbS over the torture and killing of Khashoggi.