PARIS: French leader Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agreed to work "to ease the effects" of the Ukraine war, Macron's office said on Friday, after talks in Paris that marked the full diplomatic rehabilitation of the Saudi leader.
Like US President Joe Biden who visited Riyadh earlier this month, Macron had been keen to secure extra oil production from the de facto Saudi leader who was a pariah in the West until recently.
A French statement made no reference to any agreement during a dinner on Thursday night, but said the two men had agreed to "intensify their cooperation to ease the effects (of the war) in Europe, the Middle East and the world".
While Biden fist-bumped the Saudi Crown Prince as he arrived in Riyadh, Macron shook hands on the steps of the Elysee Palace as he welcomed him.
Allies of the French president defended a meeting that has been portrayed as a case study in "Realpolitik" -- putting practical needs above principles in foreign policy.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia is one of few countries worldwide with the capacity to increase its oil production, though its margin for manoeuvre is seen as limited.
"There are partners, countries that do not all share the same democratic values as France," French Public Services Minister Stanislas Guerini, a close ally of the president, told Europe 1 radio.
"But I believe it would be a mistake to not speak, to not try to make things happen," he added.
"French values, the voice of France, human rights, were carried last night, as always, by the president," he added.
Oil market analysts say an August 3 meeting of the OPEC oil cartel, of which Saudi Arabia is a key member, will be decisive in showing whether Western pressure for extra output bears fruit.
Amena Bakr from Energy Intelligence, a consultancy, said the "most likely outcome is a modest increase or delay."
A US official told journalists on Thursday that "we're optimistic that there could be some positive announcements coming out of the next OPEC meeting."
The French president first hosted the Saudi Crown Prince in 2018, when he took his guest to an art exhibition at the Louvre Museum.
The French president travelled to Riyadh in December 2021 for further talks that again raised questions about his public commitment to promote human rights.
"The president will raise it (the human rights issue) in a way as to be the most effective possible, which requires a certain form of discretion," a presidential aide said ahead of the dinner. - AFP