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On first Mideast trip, Macron urges ‘firm’ stance on Tehran

Rouhani warns of Iran’s ‘might’ – French, Arab leaders open Louvre Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: (From left) Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Al-Nahyan, Moroccan King Mohammed VI, French President Emmanuel Macron, his wife Brigitte, Bahrainís King Hamad Al-Khalifa and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tour the Louvre Abu Dhabi yesterday. — AFP

ABU DHABI: French President Emmanuel Macron called for vigilance towards Tehran over its ballistic missile program and regional activities, in an interview published yesterday by Emirati daily Al-Ittihad. The French leader arrived in the United Arab Emirates yesterday for a two-day visit to inaugurate a new Louvre museum, hold talks on the geopolitical situation with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, before ending his trip in Dubai to attend an economic forum. This is his first visit to the Middle East as head of state.

“It is important to remain firm with Iran over its regional activities and its ballistic program,” said Macron. But he cautioned against creating a “new front” in a region already fraught with conflicts, including the war in Yemen, where UAE forces are taking part in a Saudi-led coalition. Escalation would “only heighten tensions and further destabilize the region”, Macron said. His visit comes days after Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi capital, sparking a war of words between the regional heavyweights.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused Iran of delivering missiles to Yemeni rebels in a “direct military aggression” against the kingdom, while Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani countered that Riyadh would achieve nothing by threatening “the might of Iran”. “More than ever, we need a region at peace, with responsible regional actors working for the stability of the Middle East,” Macron told Al-Ittihad.

Macron later took his first walk yesterday night through the galleries of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a decade after his country signed an over $1.2 billion agreement to share the name and some of the artworks of the world-famous museum. Macron and his wife, Brigitte, walked up to the museum with Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. Both Emirati rulers smiled and greeted the couple, an Emirati honor guard standing at ready nearby.

With architect Jean Nouvel at his side, Macron entered the first gallery of the museum. Nouvel pointed out the skylight within it, which mirrors the Louvre Pyramid and are similar to others through the museum. The floor beneath them bore the outline of the United Arab Emirates, with different world cities named on it in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and English. They then looked at a two-headed Neolithic statue from Jordan, one of the oldest known in human history. They later joined other Arab leaders at an event to inaugurate the building.

Macron toured the 12-gallery museum – the first to carry the famed Louvre brand outside France – shortly after touching down in Abu Dhabi, along with the heads of state of Morocco and Afghanistan. The museum design conjures up the image of an Arab medina as seen through the eyes of a contemporary cinematographer. A silver-toned dome with perforated arabesque patterns appears to float over the white galleries, creating what Nouvel describes as a “rain of light”. To reach the ground, each ray of light must cross eight layers of perforations, creating a constantly shifting pattern that mimics the shadows cast by palm trees or the roof of a traditional Arab market.

Macron hailed the museum as a “decisive turning point” in ties with the UAE in the interview with Al-Ittihad. Macron also told the daily there was no immediate alternative to the Iranian nuclear deal long lambasted by US President Donald Trump – which curbs Iran’s nuclear program. On North Korea, he said: “Here is a state where the absence of an international legal framework has allowed it to develop nuclear capabilities. “We must not repeat that mistake.”

Tehran has hit back against the increasingly fierce rhetoric from Riyadh with strong words of its own, troubling international oil markets. “You know the might and place of the Islamic republic. People more powerful than you have been unable to do anything against the Iranian people,” Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting in remarks aimed at Saudi leaders. “The United States and their allies have mobilized all their capabilities against us and achieved nothing.”

Rouhani referred to the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, in which revolutionary Iran successfully resisted an invasion by Saddam Hussein’s regime supported by Gulf Arab and Western governments. Rouhani reiterated that Iran wanted a peaceful settlement of the conflict between the rebels and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, and of other wars around the region that have placed it at loggerheads with Riyadh.

“We want the welfare and development of Yemen, Iraq and Syria, and of Saudi Arabia too. There are no other paths forward than friendship, brotherhood and mutual assistance,” he said. “If you think that Iran is not your friend and that the United States and the Zionist regime (Israel) are, you are making a strategic and analytical error.”

Trump has taken a much tougher line against Iran than his predecessor Barack Obama, emboldening Saudi Arabia and its allies. Trump’s administration was quick to express support for the kingdom’s claims that Iran has supplied missiles to the rebels. US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Iran of supplying a missile to Houthi rebels that was fired into Saudi Arabia in July.

The White House called for a UN inquiry into the origins of the rebels’ ballistic capabilities that on Saturday saw them fire a missile more than 800 km to near Riyadh international airport where it was intercepted and destroyed by Saudi air defenses. “These missile systems were not present in Yemen before the conflict, and we call upon the United Nations to conduct a thorough examination of evidence that the Iranian regime is perpetuating the war in Yemen to advance its regional ambitions,” it said. “Houthi missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, enabled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, threaten regional security and undermine UN efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict.”

Rouhani asked what alternative the rebels had in the face of the devastating bombing campaign waged against them by the Saudi-led coalition since March 2015. “You… constantly bomb the Yemenis… but when for once they fire back, you say it’s unjust. What are the Yemeni people supposed to do?” he asked.

The Iranian president suggested that the tougher foreign policy line from the Saudi crown prince might be a reflection of the internal upheaval he triggered by ordering the arrest of dozens of princes, ministers and a tycoon last weekend. “If Saudi Arabia is experiencing domestic problems, it needs to settle them and not to try to create problems for the other peoples of the region and speak out against them,” he said. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted a call yesterday for a peaceful solution to be found over Yemen, not “new crises by bombings, threats”. “There’s no crisis that diplomacy can’t resolve. We proved that once,” Zarif wrote of the nuclear deal Iran reached with world powers in 2015. – Agencies


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