Macron boosts Saudi prince’s standing with dinner invite

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French President Emmanuel Macron plans to welcome Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to his presidential palace and offer him dinner on Thursday, marking another step in the Saudi leader’s diplomatic rehabilitation less than four years after the killing of writer and critic Jamal Khashoggi.

Macron’s office described the meeting on Thursday evening as “a working dinner.” It will cap a long day for the French leader: He was in Guinea-Bissau, wrapping up a three-day visit to Africa, on Thursday morning.

The Saudi prince is making his first official visit to the European Union — he stopped in Greece before France — since the 2018 killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The US-based journalist’s body was dismembered with a bone saw, according to Turkish officials.

France and other European nations are seeking to secure sources of energy to lessen their dependence on oil and gas supplies from Russia. France is also a major weapons and defence supplier to Gulf nations.

The prince has been steadily attracting big-name investors back to the kingdom since Khashoggi’s killing. He has also reset Saudi relations with Turkey, a key step toward rehabilitating his international standing.

Western intelligence determined that Prince Mohammed was complicit in the killing. The prince lost appalled supporters in the West who had previously been cheering his social reforms inside the kingdom. He maintains he had no knowledge of the operation that was carried out by people who directly reported to him.

Macron was one of the highest-profile world leaders to meet the prince shortly after the killing, during a tense chat caught on camera at the G20 summit in Argentina in 2018. They have met several times since.