News World Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s G20 charm offensive doesn’t quite go as planned

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s G20 charm offensive doesn’t quite go as planned

The G20 summit is Mohammed bin Salman's first international appearance since the murder of a Washington Post columnist. Image: Getty
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French President Emmanuel Macron has stepped up the pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confronting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G20 summit in Argentina.

Mr Macron reportedly told Prince Mohammed that international experts need to be involved in the investigation into the journalist’s death.

Mr Macron’s demand came shortly before Theresa May held face-to-face talks with the crown prince in which she promised to send a “robust” message about the murder, as well as the war in Yemen.

The crown prince was filmed in an apparently tense conversation with Mr Macron, telling the French president not to worry.

Mr Macron responded: “I am worried. You never listen to me.”

The widely-shared video showed bin Salman saying: “I will listen, of course.” It concluded with Mr Macron replying: “I am a man of my word.”

Later, an Élysée Palace official said the president had conveyed a “very firm” message on the need for international involvement in the Khashoggi investigation, currently the subject of two separate probes by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Two months after the killing of the Washington Post columnist, Khashoggi, world leaders at the G20 summit in Argentina have been forced to confront how to approach the Saudi crown prince implicated in his murder.

Prince Mohammed appeared isolated among fellow world leaders at the summit, with the notable exception of an awkward and vigorous public handshake from Russia’s Vladimir Putin – himself treated as a pariah by some of those present.

The crown prince patted Mr Putin’s hand three times for emphasis as the two leaders took their seats next to each other.

Mr Putin and Prince Mohammed were due to hold bilateral talks on Saturday, according to Kremlin documents seen by Reuters.

Intelligence agencies including the CIA have blamed Prince Mohammed, 33, for the October 2 assassination of Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of his family’s regime, although the prince has blamed the death on a rogue operation.

In a family photo of world leaders at the opening of the summit in Buenos Aires, Prince Mohammed was sidelined and kept a relatively low profile.

US President Donald Trump also appeared to give the prince a wide berth.

G20 summit
US President Donald Trump (R), Brazil’s President Michel Temer (L) and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Getty

Mr Trump has refused to condemn the prince and even rebuked the verdict of his own intelligence agencies in the wake of Khashoggi’s death.

Last week, he told reporters the CIA only “had feelings” on the matter before suggesting “the world” should be held responsible for Khashoggi’s death because it is a “vicious place”.

“Do people really want me to give up hundreds of thousands of jobs?” Mr Trump said of his partnership with Prince Mohammed.

“And frankly, if we went by this standard, we wouldn’t be able to have anybody as an ally,” he added, before claiming the crown prince “hates it more than I do” that the assassination took place.

Before Khashoggi’s assassination, the prince aggressively courted the United States, meeting with Oprah and appearing on the cover of TIME magazine where he was hailed as a reformer looking to modernise Saudi Arabia.

But the prince has fallen out of favour with the international community over his country’s continued bombing of neighbouring Yemen, plunging the country into famine and sparking a humanitarian crisis.

The White House on Friday confirmed Mr Trump “exchanged pleasantries” with Prince Mohammed but it is yet to be confirmed whether the two men will hold private talks.

-with wires

Ebony Bowden contributed reporting from New York City.

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