PARIS — Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman engaged in a long handshake with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace on Thursday, in the latest sign of the crown prince’s rehabilitation nearly four years after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Mohammed’s trip to France, where he was attending a working dinner with Macron, followed a stop in Greece this week to sign a flurry of bilateral agreements.
He also met this month in Riyadh with President Biden, who as a candidate had pledged to make the prince a pariah. And he made a state visit in June to Turkey, which once led the charge to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for the killing of Khashoggi — a Saudi citizen, Washington Post opinion columnist and critic of the crown prince — who was dismembered in his country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
These high-level encounters with Mohammed would have been hard to imagine not long ago. But the war in Ukraine and a downturn in the global economy have reaffirmed the Saudi kingdom’s status as a critical source of global energy and investment and brought world leaders pleading for assistance, including an increase in oil production. Macron, Biden and some other Western leaders have also argued there is no way to address global crises, such as the war in Yemen, without the help of the crown prince, who could rule Saudi Arabia for decades.
Mohammed’s reception in the halls of the French Élysée presidential palace on Thursday night promised to mark another breakthrough in his bid for re-acceptance on the international stage. “This is a game changer on a symbolic level,” said Sebastian Sons, a Saudi Arabia researcher with the CARPO think tank. “He thinks he can now build on the European needs in terms of energy — and this is exactly the narrative he sells at the moment.”
The diplomatic forays by the crown prince have come despite continued pressure from human rights groups to hold him accountable for Khashoggi’s murder. Biden’s meeting with the crown prince was called a “betrayal” by human rights groups and Saudi dissidents. And hours before Macron and Mohammed were set to meet, a group founded by Khashoggi said it had filed a criminal complaint in France against Mohammed that called him an “accomplice” in the journalist’s torture and disappearance.
“As a party to the UN Conventions against Torture and Enforced Disappearances, France is obliged to investigate a suspect such as Bin Salman if he is present on French terr
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