Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for his “warm reception” during talks in Paris that have outraged rights groups.
“As I leave your friendly country, it gives me great pleasure to express to your Excellency my deepest gratitude and appreciation for the warm reception and hospitality accorded to me and the accompanying delegation,” bin Salman wrote in a message posted by the Saudi foreign ministry.
The dinner on Thursday evening was the latest step in the diplomatic rehabilitation of the de-facto leader of the Saudi kingdom.
The 36-year-old became a pariah in the West following the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Macron’s office made no official statement on the talks overnight which were expected to focus on securing extra oil and gas supplies from the Middle East’s biggest producer.
The prince is being courted by Western leaders again as they urgently seek fresh sources of fossil fuels to replace lost Russian production.
US President Joe Biden travelled to Riyadh earlier this month, drawing similar criticism to that faced by Macron at home.
While Biden fist-bumped bin Salman in a gesture that was seized on by critics, Macron shook hands on the steps of the Elysee Palace as he welcomed the prince.
“He’s shaking the hand for a long time of man whose hands are covered in blood,” senior leftwing MP Alexis Corbiere told BFM television on Friday.
But allies of the French president defended a meeting that has been widely portrayed as a demonstration of “Realpolitik” — putting practical needs above principles in foreign policy.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia is one of few countries worldwide with the capacity to increase its oil production, though its margin for manoeuvre is seen as limited.
“There are partners, countries that do not all share the same democratic values as France,” Public Services Minister Stanislas Guerini, a close ally of the president, told Europe 1 radio on Friday.
“But I believe it would be a mistake to not speak, to not try to make things happen,” he added.
The role of the president was “to protect the French people,” he said.
“French values, the voice of France, human rights, were carried last night, as always, by the president,” he added.
The head of Amnesty International Agnes Callamard told AFP she felt “profoundly troubled by the visit”.
The killing of Khashoggi was described by a UN probe as an “extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible”.
US intelligence agencies determined that MBS had “approved” the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death. Riyadh denies this, blaming rogue operatives.
“I am scandalised and outraged that Emmanuel Macron is receiving with all the honours the executioner of my fiance, Jamal Khashoggi,” his fiancee Hatice Cengiz told AFP on Thursday.
The French president first hosted MBS in 2018, when he took him to an art exhibition at the Louvre museum, and travelled to the kingdom in December 2021 for further talks.
The Saudi strongman stayed overnight at his Louis XIV chateau in Louveciennes west of Paris which he acquired in 2015, according to a source who asked not to be named.
Despite its name, the castle was only built in 2009, by a company headed by Khashoggi’s cousin Emad, and was described as “the world’s most expensive home” at the time of purchase.