- As Lebanon celebrates independence from France, Paris is once again becoming a dominant player in the Middle East
- French leader Emmanuel Macron spoke with both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday
- He also met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in recent days in an attempt to mediate the crisis in Lebanon
- Separately, Iran has also said that the French can play a positive role in Middle East diplomacy
As Lebanon marks 74 years of independence from French rule, Paris is once again jostling for influence in the country and across the wider Middle East.
With former big hitters such as the U.K. and the United States now decreasaing their active roles in the region, France is once again becoming a key player in regional affairs.
This growing influence was particularly visible yesterday when French leader Emmanuel Macron telephoned both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and urged them to preserve stability in Lebanon.
"The president of the Republic recalled the need to preserve the stability and sovereignty of Lebanon and to support the Lebanese policy of dissociation of regional conflicts," a presidential statement read.
The statement continued by saying that the French president had "stressed the importance for the countries of the region to work collectively to reduce tensions".
The calls came just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri left Paris following a three-day visit, his first since leaving Riyadh following his attempted resignation on Nov. 4.
While in France Hariri met with Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, just hours after Le Drian sat down with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.
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The talks followed an earlier an earlier meeting between the French president and Bin Salman in the Saudi capital a week beforehand.
While Hariri yesterday left the French capital for Cairo, it is clear that of all Western powers it is France which will be a key player, as the crisis in Lebanon continues.
However, this is not the France’s only exploit in Middle Eastern affairs in recent months.
France is a close ally of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and the pair held talks in Paris in October and France has long provided military support to the Egyptian government, despite international concerns about the country’s human rights record.
France has also been criticized by international NGOs including Amnesty International for supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and backing the country’s ongoing bombing and blockade in Yemen.
France has also become a key player in the dispute between Iran and the Trump administration over the country’s controversial nuclear deal.
On Tuesday Iranian state media reported that the country’s president Hassan Rouhani told Macron that Paris could play a positive role in the region.
"We are against adventurism and creating division in the region and believe that France, by keeping an independent vote and its position in the region, can – with a realistic and impartial approach – have a productive role," Rouhani said.
His comments follow tense relations between the two countries after Macron urged Tehran to "clarify its ballistic missile strategy," last week.
Macron’s statement was poorly received by Iranian officials despite the fact that the French leader has sided with Tehran on the nuclear deal and said that France wishes to continue dialogue with the Iranian state.
Macron rose to power earlier this year with a promise to increase France’s standing in international diplomacy.
"Macron is extremely opportunistic and is filling the void left by the U.S. and the U.K. in the Middle East, positioning France as a playmaker in the region along with Russia," Oliver Guitta of GlobalStrat geopolitical risk consultancy told AFP News Agency earlier this week.
Whether Macron can deliver on his promise and make Paris once again an influencer in the Middle East remains to be seen.
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