Russian FM in Saudi for Syria, Gulf talks

JIDDAH: Saudi King Salman (right) receives the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at Al-Salam Palace in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia yesterday. — AP

RIYADH: The Saudi king and Russia’s foreign minister met in Saudi Arabia yesterday ahead of a possible visit by the monarch to Russia next month. King Salman greeted Sergey Lavrov at his summer palace in the Red Sea city of Jiddah before the Russian envoy’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The king’s 32-year-old son and heir to the throne, who oversees Saudi energy and defense policy, visited Russia in May to boost ties between the world’s two top oil producers.
Saudi Arabia’s state news agency said the monarch and Lavrov discussed the wars in Syria and Yemen, as well as an Arab diplomatic crisis with Qatar. Russia and Saudi Arabia back warring sides in Syria’s conflict, with the kingdom supporting Sunni rebel groups fighting the Syrian government, which is backed by Moscow and Shiite-ruled Iran.

In a brief press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir in Jiddah, Lavrov said Russia supports Saudi Arabia’s efforts to unite the Syrian opposition into one group. Lavrov is scheduled to visit Jordan next. Last month, the Arab diplomatic crisis with Qatar drew Lavrov to the region, where he met with leaders in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and Qatar’s ruling emir spoke for the first time since a diplomatic crisis erupted in June, but the call only led to further public squabbling.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar over its ties with Islamist groups and relations with Iran. The four also accuse Qatar of supporting extremist groups. Meanwhile, Qatar has moved to secure even closer ties with Russia through a $3 billion investment to acquire a stake in Russia’s Rosneft oil company. As the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia have worked closely to curb oil production in an effort to shore up prices, however the two are also in fierce competition for a larger share in China’s growing market.

GCC row rages
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said yesterday it would keep pressuring Qatar until demands by a bloc of Arab states are met, dampening hopes for a US-mediated resolution to a diplomatic crisis. “We will continue to take action and we will maintain our position until Qatar responds,” Saudi Foreign Minister said, speaking alongside his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

The bloc’s 13 demands include Doha ending its alleged support for Islamist extremist groups, closing a Turkish military base in the emirate and downgrading diplomatic ties with Tehran. Qatar “must respond to these requests in order to open a new page,” Jubeir said. The Saudi move came just two days after US President Donald Trump spoke with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a bid to mediate. Trump said he believed the dispute could be solved “fairly easily”. The Saudi and Qatari rulers spoke by phone on Saturday, raising hope for talks.

But Riyadh later suspended the dialogue, accusing Doha of distorting facts by wrongly implying that Saudi Arabia had initiated the outreach. A United Arab Emirates minister late Saturday voiced support for the Saudi decision on Twitter, accusing Qatar of “wasting an opportunity” to resolve the crisis. “I hope that Doha will stop maneuvering… and act transparently. There is no other way,” state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said on his official Twitter account.

Saudi Arabia led the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain in cutting ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of bankrolling extremist groups and of being too close to Riyadh’s regional arch-rival Tehran. Doha denies the accusations. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are both key US allies. Doha hosts a major US air base, home to the headquarters of Centcom-the regional command which leads operations against the Islamic State jihadist group. Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamid Al-Thani is set to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel for talks on September 15, in what will be his first trip to a western capital since the crisis began.- Agencies


This article was published on 10/09/2017