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Le Monde
Le Monde
2 Dec 2023

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Nothing went as hoped for Emmanuel Macron. After unsuccessful attempts in recent days to mount a fresh regional tour, the French president had intended to take advantage of his visit to the COP28 global climate conference to step up contacts with Arab leaders in Dubai on Friday, December 1. In the rush of such international events, between two speeches on the climate, Macron had to scale back his ambitions.

In the morning, flanked by ministers Catherine Colonna (foreign affairs) and Sébastien Lecornu (armed forces), Macron had hoped to bring together the leaders of the countries most concerned by the war, from Egypt to Jordan to Qatar, in the immense site where COP28 is being held. The round table failed to take place, with no explanation given other than a lack of availability on the part of all concerned. After considering a trip to Saudi Arabia, he thought he would be able to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Dubai. However, the Saudi leader pulled out at the last minute.

With these setbacks, the day gave an idea of the difficulties in engaging in dialogue with Arab leaders, who are very upset with the West, and with European countries, starting with France, which have struggled to influence the course of events since the outbreak of hostilities following the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7.

The breakdown of the truce in the Gaza Strip has further strained the situation. In protest, Iranian President Ebrahim Raissi canceled his speech and his delegation left the conference. Others, such as Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, voiced their support for the Palestinians at the podium, speaking of "war crimes."

Macron did meet with the Egyptian head of state, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and King Abdullah of Jordan, whom he had already met over a month ago, during his previous trip. This was followed by a tête-à-tête with the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, host of COP28.

With his interlocutors of the day, Macron could only deplore the resumption of fighting, while calling for a return to the truce in order to work toward a lasting ceasefire. This is what he told Israeli President Isaac Herzog, as he was unable to meet Benjamin Netanyahu, who remained in Jerusalem because of the conflict. Macron also told his Herzog of his concerns regarding the conduct of military operations, particularly in the south of the Gaza Strip, should the Israeli army seek to take control of the area. For the Elysée, Israel needs to clarify its "war aims," since destroying Hamas, the government's stated objective, may not be possible in such a densely populated territory.

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