PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman upon his arrival at the Elysee Presidential Palace for a meeting yesterday. - AFP

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that France agreed with Saudi Arabia on the need to curb Iranian "expansionism" in the Middle East, while also announcing a conference to boost humanitarian support for Yemen, where Riyadh is waging a bombing campaign. Speaking alongside Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at a press conference as he wrapped up a three-day official visit, Macron called for "greater efforts to limit Iran's ballistic activity and regional expansionism". "This strategic vision means reducing all the projects of expansionist political Islam which could feed other forms of terrorism and destabilize the region," Macron said of Riyadh's regional rival.

On Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has led an international military coalition since 2015 and waged a blockade that has sparked widespread condemnation, Macron stressed the need for "respect for international humanitarian law". "We will continue to be extremely vigilant on this point," he said, while adding: "It is obvious that we will not tolerate any ballistic activity that threatens Saudi Arabia."

After a trip which has seen France and Saudi sign up for major cultural exchanges as well as discussions of war in the Middle East, companies from both countries signed draft deals worth a total $18 billion. The memoranda of understanding cover sectors including petrochemicals, water treatment, tourism, health, agricultural and cultural activities, the French-Saudi business forum said in a statement.

Macron was to dine with Prince Mohammed and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri later yesterday, a diplomatic move aimed at showing the young leader can play a mediator role in the region. Lebanon was plunged into crisis last November when Hariri resigned as prime minister while he was in Saudi Arabia, saying he feared assassination and criticizing the Saudis' regional archrival Iran along with its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

At the time Lebanese officials had accused the Saudis of holding Hariri hostage and after international efforts in part by Macron, Hariri was able to leave the kingdom and eventually rescinded his resignation. On April 6, Lebanon won aid pledges exceeding $11 billion at a Paris conference aimed at rallying international support for an investment program to boost its economy. Saudi Arabia pledged a $1 billion credit line.

Standing alongside Prince Mohammed at the press conference, Macron said the dinner later yesterday aimed to reinforce efforts to stabilize Lebanon. Perhaps in an effort to show that Hariri and Prince Mohammed have patched up their differences, the Lebanese leader yesterday morning tweeted a photo of himself, Prince Mohammed and Morocco's King Mohammed VI all smiling after a dinner in a Parisian restaurant. "No comment," Hariri wrote. - Agencies