French President Emmanuel Macron during his talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah on December 4, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

Jeddah: France and Saudi Arabia have committed to “fully engage” to resolve a diplomatic row between the Gulf kingdom and Lebanon, visiting French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday.

His announcement came after meeting in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Macron said that he and Prince Mohammed held a joint telephone conversation with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in an effort to resolve the crisis that was sparked in October between Beirut and several Gulf states — in particular Saudi Arabia, which had blocked imports.

Saudi Arabia and France “want to fully engage” on re-establishing relations between Riyadh and Beirut, the French president told reporters before his departure.

“With Saudi Arabia, we have made commitments towards Lebanon: to work together, to support reforms, to enable the country to emerge from the crisis and preserve its sovereignty,” Macron said on Twitter.

Mikati said later that the phone call was “an important step towards resuming historical brotherly relations” with Riyadh.

Macron said he would speak with Lebanese President Michel Aoun by telephone on Sunday.

The Gulf dispute has exacerbated an already dire situation in Lebanon, which is in the grip of a deep economic and financial crisis.

Macron’s efforts likely received a boost by the resignation of Lebanese information minister Georges Kordahi, whose remarks on the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen sparked the row.

The French president has spearheaded international efforts to help Lebanon out of its economic downturn, as the country’s fragile government has been struggling to secure international aid.

Lebanon’s ties with Gulf states have also grown increasingly strained in recent years due to the growing influence of Iran-backed Lebanese movement Hezbollah.

‘Work for stability’

Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed also discussed bilateral relations, areas of partnership and prospects for cooperation, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The French president’s departure from Jeddah ended his Gulf tour, which also saw him visit the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Prince Mohammed shook hands with Macron, who wore a face mask, welcoming him at the royal palace before talks and a lunch together.

Dialogue with Saudi Arabia was necessary to “work for stability in the region”, Macron said on Friday.

Role to play

Macron said France had a role to play in the region.

“But how can we work for regional stability and on Lebanon and many other issues while ignoring the first Gulf state in terms of geography and size?” he said, referring to the kingdom which is the Arab world’s largest economy, and the world’s biggest crude exporter.

France’s Airbus said it signed a contract in Jeddah on Saturday to sell 26 civilian helicopters to a Saudi firm, while French waste management company Veolia said it had won a contract for drinking water management in Riyadh.

It said Riyadh was the largest buyer of French weapons last year.