French president, in Morocco, urges dialogue over Qatar

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French President Emmanuel Macron is urging Qatar and its rival neighbors to talk directly, to defuse their tensions over alleged terrorism financing, and said Wednesday he will step up diplomatic discussions with Gulf leaders in the coming days.

Macron spoke after meeting with Moroccan King Mohammed VI, who is also trying to mediate the escalating Qatar standoff.

Speaking in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, Macron called for a "clarification of all the links and financing of terrorist groups, whatever it is and wherever it comes from."

Saudi Arabia and other countries recently cut diplomatic ties and blocked travel to Qatar over allegations of Qatari sponsorship of Islamic extremists in the region. Qatar denies the allegations, but its ties to Iran and embrace of various Islamist groups have put the country under intense scrutiny.

Stressing the international importance of stability in the Middle East, Macron said it's important "that the parties speak again" and find a way to "de-escalate" tensions that have mounted in recent days.

"The king of Morocco shares this concern," Macron told reporters. Mohammed VI and Macron have spoken to key Gulf players in recent days and Macron said he will invite regional leaders to Paris for further discussions.

Macron also offered support to the king over tensions in Morocco's northern Rif region, where protests over corruption and bleak living conditions prompted a violent police crackdown and large-scale arrests.

Macron said he raised the issue but said the king gave him no "reason to fear renewed repression" and said the king instead appears committed to a "long-term response to the deep causes" of the conflict.

Macron's visit is the first by the recently elected French president to a North African country, and aimed to strengthen cooperation on security and other issues with Morocco, considered an important force for stability in an often-volatile region. The two leaders discussed France's military operation against Islamic extremists in Africa's Sahel region.

Macron attended the Ramadan fast-breaking dinner with his wife, Brigitte, at the invitation of the king in his personal residence

Earlier Wednesday, Brigitte Macron and Moroccan Princess Lala Salma visited a Picasso exhibit at the Mohammed VI Modern Art Museum in Rabat, a joint project with the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and discussed further art cooperation between the countries.


Sylvie Corbet and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.