Security, Qatar crisis tops agenda as Macron visits Morocco
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French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Morocco Wednesday on a 24-hour visit for talks on battling terrorism as well as the Libyan conflict and Qatar's dispute with its Gulf neighbours.
Bucking a longstanding diplomatic tradition that has seen French presidents chose Algeria for their first visit to a North African nation, Macron’s first presidential trip to the Maghreb was to Algeria’s arch rival, Morocco.
As he stepped off the plane in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, the French president, with his wife Brigitte at his side, was welcomed on the tarmac by King Mohammed VI.
The king's wife, Princess Lala Salma, and Crown Prince Moulay Hassan, 14, were also present at the airport to greet the French first couple, who were then driven to the royal palace for talks.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Macron underlined the importance of security and intelligence-sharing between France and Morocco.
"I believe that the common will is to find the means of stabilisation, which is a major concern in terms of regional safety and migration,” said Macron.
The French president’s visit came amid mounting protests across the kingdom following the detention of prominent leaders of a protest movement based in the neglected northern Moroccan Rif region.
Over the past few weeks Moroccan authorities have arrested dozens of people in a crackdown on Al-Hirak Al-Shaabi or "Popular Movement" protests in the Rif port of Al-Hoceima.
When asked about the issue at a press conference in Rabat following his meeting with Mohammed VI, Macron noted that, “My impression is that on the one hand the King considers it legitimate and normal for there to be demonstrations, as they are a right that's protected by the constitution. But on the other hand he also wishes to address the issue by offering concrete solutions to the problem.”
Mohammed VI was not present at the press conference since the Moroccan monarch never speaks to journalists.
A 'shared vision' on the Gulf crisis
Macron also addressed the mounting tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia that threatens to destabilise the region.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and other countries severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing the gas-rich Gulf nation of supporting Islamist extremism.
Addressing the issue in Rabat, Macron noted that, “On the issue of the tension that exists today in the Gulf, we have reaffirmed a largely shared vision that consists of focusing on regional stability on the one hand and the fight against terrorism andall forms of terrorist financing on the other,” said Macron.
Ahead of the visit, the French presidential office issued a statement that Paris and Rabat were keen on mediating a solution to the crisis.
"President Macron has spoken with all the heads of state of the region and called for appeasement. This efforts could converge with the mediation that Morocco wants to attempt," said the Élysée Palace.
A French diplomatic source said "the priority is to help resolve the crisis".
Also on Macron's agenda was the conflict in Libya, where the UN-backed government is struggling to impose its legitimacy.
The fight against radicalisation and terrorism would also be at the centre of the talks between the two leaders, and Paris would like to "intensify" cooperation in that field, the source said.
Moroccans, or people of Moroccan origin, are believed to be behind several attacks that have been carried out in Europe in the past two years.
Macron and his wife are to attend an iftar meal, to break the fast of Ramadan, at the king's personal residence, and the French president will spend the night in Rabat before flying back home Thursday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)