Qatari emir in France to discuss Gaza war, economic deals — and talk Mbappe

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has a wide-ranging agenda on his first state visit to Paris.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani arrived in Paris Tuesday for his first state visit to France, where he is expected to discuss the Gaza war with President Emmanuel Macron, oversee the signing of several economic agreements and perhaps help keep one of the world’s top soccer players in France.

The trip marks the first time a Qatari emir has visited France since Sheikh Tamim’s father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, met with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris in 2009. The first of the two-day visit will include geopolitical discussions on Tuesday and a private meeting between the two leaders followed by a state dinner at the Elysee Palace. An economic forum will convene Wednesday.

Hostage deal tops agenda

His French hosts are hailing the emir’s trip as a sign of friendship. While state visits are usually planned many months ahead, this one is time sensitive, set against the backdrop of the war in Gaza and growing cooperation between Paris and Doha on the issues of the hostages, efforts to reach a cease-fire deal and humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip.

A diplomatic source at the Elysee Palace told journalists, “Qatar is particularly involved in the release of hostages, which is obviously a priority for us, since we still have three French citizens amid the abductees held in Gaza.” The source added, “The discussions with Qatar will obviously focus on the release of the hostages, but also on ongoing efforts to obtain a cease-fire.”

The source also noted that France is currently working jointly with Qatar on an effort to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ten ambulances, 300 tents and other equipment will be delivered in three flights expected to land at the Egyptian El-Arish airport near the border with Gaza next week.

🇫🇷✨ Kylian Mbappé arrives at dinner where PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi will be, alongside the likes of Emir of Qatar and Emmanuel Macron. 🤵‍♂️
— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) February 27, 2024

The Qatari visit comes only four days after a meeting in Paris last Friday that brought together CIA chief Wiliam Burns, Shin Bet chief David Barnea, Egyptian intelligence head Kamel Abbas and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed al-Thani. Friday’s meeting resulted in an outline for a hostage release/cease-fire deal, further discussed by the sides in a meeting held in Doha on Monday. Paris has not yet confirmed whether any French official took part in that meeting.

According to the diplomatic source, French authorities have been in contact on several occasions with the Arab League’s Contact Group on Gaza, which includes Qatar. French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu received his Qatari counterpart, Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah, in Paris last week.

French-Qatari cooperation in other arenas

Paris has been working for several years to deepen its diplomatic, cultural and economic ties with Qatar. During their presidencies, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Holland shared the goal, as has Macron since taking office in 2017. In December 2022, the French president traveled to Doha for the World Cup soccer tournament despite criticism at home for what was seen as whitewashing for a country that does not uphold human rights.

Highlighting the rapprochement between the two countries, the Elysee source noted that Qatar has significantly supported Ukraine since the Russian invasion two years ago, offering $100 million in humanitarian aid. Qatar also played a central role in bringing home Ukrainian children taken by the Russians during the war.

Economic partnership

The two countries are set to sign several agreements during Sheikh Tamim’s visit, including pacts between the French Agency for Development and the Qatar Foundation for Development.

Wednesday’s economic forum, which will be presided over by the leaders, is set to explore investment opportunities in a number of sectors including artificial intelligence, digitalization, decarbonization, semiconductors, biotech and health care. The forum will also address cooperation projects in the domain of transportation and tourism. French Culture Minister Rachida Dati is expected to visit Qatar in the coming weeks to reinforce cultural heritage ties.

Qatar’s investments in France stand around $30 billion, according to the Qatar News Agency, across sectors including real estate, retail, transportation and sports. France has invested heavily in Qatari oil and gas infrastructure and other areas including aviation and security.

Trade between the two countries has been growing steadily. In 2022 it reached 16.5 billion Qatari riyals ($4.53 billion), up from 4.9 billion riyals ($1.35 billion) in 2017.

There are around 418 French firms operating in Qatar. Of them, 120 are under 100% French ownership, 290 firms are held in partnership with Qatar, eight are licensed by the Qatar Financial Center and three are offices representing the French Republic, QNA reported.

Mbappe charm offensive

Sports represents a key strategic sector for Doha. French soccer star Kylian Mbappe will be at a state dinner for Sheikh Tamim by Macron and his wife Brigitte at the Elysee Palace Tuesday evening. The World Cup champion is currently at Paris Saint-Germain, a French soccer club majority owned by Qatar Sports Investments, a subsidiary of the country’s sovereign wealth fund the Qatar Investment Authority, which Sheikh Tamim established in 2005. Qatar Sports Investments and Paris Saint-Germain President Nasser Al-Khelafi will also be at the dinner.

Earlier this month, Mbappe informed PSG he will be leaving the club at the end of the summer. He has since been rumored to be moving to Real Madrid, but neither the Spanish club nor PSG have released a formal statement announcing the player’s decision.

Macron said in June 2022 that he has attempted to convince the 25-year-old French soccer player to stay in his home country. Mbappe told reporters at the end of last season that Macron did not wield influence over his career, but admitted he had been pressured by the president to stay in Paris.

Macron was quick to publicly console Mbappe when France lost the 2022 World Cup final in Qatar to Argentina, though the soccer player seemed keen to distance himself from the French president.

According to reports from L’Equipe and the Daily Mail, at the state dinner, the senior officials will try to convince Mbappe — who many consider the best soccer player in the world — to stay at PSG.

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