Caught on tape: ‘I am worried’ Macron tells Saudi prince in private chat at G20
- Topic of conversation unclear, but French officials said the Khashoggi murder and Yemen conflict were the two main subjects of their short exchange
- French leader also insisted crown prince ‘never listens’ to him, while Mohammed said he ‘can deal with it’, but the topics unknown
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, suspected of ordering the murder of dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi and accused of war crimes in the Yemen conflict, told 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 the Khashoggi murder and the Yemen conflict were the two key topics of the short exchange.
According to 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.”
Elysee 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 October 2 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 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.
There was similar uncertainty over whether US President Donald Trump would meet the Saudi crown prince, whom the president has supported in the face of US intelligence findings of his alleged culpability in the Khashoggi murder. The administration also suffered a significant rebuke from the Senate, which ignored the urging of top Trump officials and refused to shelve a debate on whether to cut US military support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.
‘Assassination team leader’ linked to Saudi prince is pictured entering consulate where journalist Khashoggi vanished
The Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiyah reported that the crown prince and Trump held a “friendly meeting” on the sidelines of the summit, but the White House said the encounter only amounted to an exchange of pleasantries, similar to the US president’s greeting with every other leader.
Before arriving in Buenos Aires, Trump declared himself willing to meet the crown prince, while his national security adviser John Bolton ruled it out, saying there was no room in the president’s schedule. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir, separately in a meeting that a statement said was focused on planned Yemen peace talks next week, “as well as the importance of making progress on the investigation into Jamal Khashoggi’s death”.
On leaving the meeting, the Saudi foreign minister described it as “very productive”, saying they have discussed “challenges in the region and the bilateral relationship and ways of moving it forward”. Asked whether they had also discussed Khashoggi, he did not reply.