The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, suspected of ordering the murder of the dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi and accused of war crimes in the Yemen conflict, has told the French president, Emmanuel Macron, “Don’t worry” at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
The two leaders were having an informal conversation on the sidelines of the summit, standing close together and apparently unaware their conversation was being recorded. The subject of the snatched conversation was not immediately clear but a French presidential aide said afterwards that the Khashoggi murder and the Yemen conflict were the two key topics of the short exchange.
According to a Guardian analysis of their only partly audible conversation, Macron replies to the crown prince’s assurances: “I do worry. I am worried … I told you.”
“Yes, you told me,” the prince says. “Thank you very much.”
“You never listen to me,” Macron says.
“No, I listen, of course,” replied Prince Mohammed, dressed in flowing white robes and smiling broadly after apparently becoming aware of a television camera.
“Because I told you. It was more important for you,” Macron says, and gives a tight smile, before turning away from the camera to speak further to the prince.
Macron then says something inaudible, to which the Saudi leader says: “It’s OK. I can deal with it.”
After another indecipherable segment of conversation, Macron says: “I am a man of my word.”
The Élysée Palace said the two leaders had a five-minute exchange on the sidelines of the summit in which Macron conveyed a “very firm” message to the prince over the killing and the need to find a political solution for the situation in Yemen.
The Saudi prince’s decision to attend the G20 summit in Buenos Aires represented a calculated risk, as it was unclear whether the other leaders would condemn him. Many of his closest aides and security staff were involved in Khashoggi’s murder on 2 October in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and the CIA has reportedly assessed that the prince gave the order for the execution.
The results of the 33-year-old Saudi leader’s gambit were mixed at the start of the two-day summit. Macron and the UK’s prime minister, Theresa May, agreed to meet him. May insisted she had strong words to convey about the Khashoggi murder and the need for a full accounting of Riyadh’s alleged involvement.
During a group photo marking the start of the summit, the prince stood at the far edge of the group, largely ignored and left alone as soon as it was over. But a few minutes later, Vladimir Putin greeted the Saudi prince warmly, giving him a high five as they sat down together at the large ring-shaped table for the first group session.
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