French President Emmanuel Macron says Paris is prepared to back imposing international sanctions on those involved in the death of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who is said to have been murdered on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s orders.
Macron made the comments in a phone conversation with Saudi King Salman on Wednesday, according to a statement by the Elysee Palace.
The French president informed the Saudi king of his “profound indignation” at the crime, and said France, in coordination with its partners, could take action against those responsible for the murder, the statement added.
He told the king that France’s main priority was “defending freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of the public.” He also urged the king to fully disclose the circumstances around Khashoggi’s death, the Elysee Palace said.
This was Macron’s first public comments since the dissident journalist’s apparent assassination sparked global condemnation.
Earlier in the day, French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Paris “would draw the necessary conclusions and impose appropriate sanctions” once the French intelligence services conclude “Saudi Arabia’s responsibility has been proved”.
Any steps would not just involve sanctions on arms sales, he said without giving more details.
Following Khashoggi’s disappearance on October 2, Paris tried to show a relatively guarded reaction in a bid to protect its commercial ties with the kingdom, particularly its energy investments and a huge arms deal, which has been urged to be terminated by German leaders and rights groups like Amnesty International.
Macron on Tuesday refused to take questions about halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite Germany’s calls on its European partners to follow its example and stop arms exports to the kingdom.
Journalists asked the French president whether Paris would follow Berlin halting weapons sales to Riyadh after it admitted to the death of Khashoggi in its consulate.
“This has nothing to do with what we’re talking about. Nothing. So I won’t answer that question. I’m sorry but as long as I’ll be in office this is how it will be, whether people like it or not,” he told reporters during a visit to a naval defense show, visibly irritated.
A senior French diplomat was quoted by Reuters as saying on Wednesday that the French president “was treading a thin line in pursuing his long-stated policy of avoiding taking sides” between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“We have an important partnership, but while we never considered Saudi to be the cradle of human rights, this is serious. It can’t be ignored. There will be consequences, but we need to be prudent,” the diplomat said.
After over two weeks of near silence, Saudi Arabia on Saturday admitted that the journalist was killed in its consulate in Istanbul, saying it was an unauthorized operation — a claim other countries, even the Western allies of Riyadh, have rejected.
US President Donald Trump said Wednesday the crown prince may be behind Khashoggi’s death. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the murder as a “monstrosity” and vowed to halt German arms exports.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May also announced the Saudi Arabian men suspected of murdering Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi will not be allowed to enter Britain.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said Ottawa is ready to halt a $13 billion arms deal with Riyadh in an apparent reaction to Khashoggi’s murder.