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Tillerson Meets Jubeir: We Will Strengthen Efforts to Counter Iran in Yemen, Syria | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir holds a joint press conference with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson in Riyadh on May 20. (AFP)

Riyadh – Saudi Arabia and the United States announced on Saturday the opening of a new era in ties between them through Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque King Salman’s signing of a Joint Strategic Vision with US President Donald Trump in Riyadh.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir declared during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the sidelines of Trump’s visit: “Today marks the beginning of a new phase in relations between the US and Saudi Arabia and the US and the Islamic world.”

Riyadh and Washington also agreed to take joint measures to deter Iran and ensure that its hostile policy in the region comes to an end. They stressed that it should commit to the nuclear deal signed with the 5+1 countries and stop supporting terrorism.

Tehran must also adhere to the United Nations Security Council resolution on its ballistic missile system and cease meddling in the internal affairs of regional countries.

According to Jubeir, King Salman and Trump discussed how to tackle extremist terrorism, increase defense capabilities, work on a defense structure for the region, starting from Saudi Arabia, which will be later joined by other countries.

“The Joint Strategic Vision also encompasses trade, investment and education, and work in all fields in order to bolster our joint interests and confront the challenges facing our two countries,” revealed Jubeir.

“This is unprecedented. We have never signed such agreement between the leaders of two countries to bolster strategic partnership. We want to go ahead with this partnership,” he told reporters.

He emphasized that agreements worth more than $380 billion were signed and they will be implemented in the next ten years.

King Salman and Trump also discussed the importance of achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis, said Jubeir, revealing that the monarch was optimistic over the US leader’s approach on the issue.

“We believe that he has a vision and determination. We are prepared to work with the United States to achieve peace between the two sides,” stressed the FM.

On Iran, Jubeir refused to comment on the Iranian presidential polls that saw the re-election of Hassan Rouhani for a second term, reiterating that Saudi Arabia will judge Tehran based on its actions, not its words.

“Iranians claim that they want to establish better ties with us, but then they went on to attack our embassy, assassinate our diplomats and arm militias, such as ‘Hezbollah’, Houthis and others in Syria, that are destabilizing the security of nations,” said Jubeir.

“They are interfering in the internal affairs of some Arab countries, such as Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. They support terrorism and have established the largest terrorist organization in the world, ‘Hezbollah’, and they are supporting al-Qaeda leaders. Many of those leaders used to live in Iran, which has ties with the Taliban that is destabilizing Afghanistan. These are not the actions of a good neighbor or those of a country that wants our respect,” he emphasized.

On Yemen, he remarked that there are no more than 50,000 Houthis in a country of more than 28 million, adding: “It is unacceptable to allow them to come to power. They have fired over 40 ballistic missiles against our cities and violated seven truces and 70 agreements.”

He stated that the US support will pressure the Houthis and Saleh and make them head to the negotiations table, according to the Gulf initiative, outcomes of the national dialogue and UN Security Council resolution.

For his part, Tillerson said: “Today (Saturday) truly is a historic moment in US-Saudi relations. The US and Saudi Arabia are really dedicating ourselves to a new strategic partnership, new for the 21st century, and to charting a renewed path toward a peaceful Middle East where economic development, trade, diplomacy are hallmarks of the regional and global engagement. It’s something that we will be working closely together on.”

The Joint Strategic Vision is a very strong message to common enemies, he added.

“At the core of our expanding relationship really are our shared security interests. America’s security at home is strengthened when Saudi Arabia’s security is strong as well. And the US and Saudi Arabia are embarking on a number of new initiatives to counter violent extremist messaging,” he continued.

“We are also going to be pursuing new approaches to disrupting financing of terrorism and advancing defense cooperation. Today, the United States and Saudi Arabia are conducting vital new expansions of the security relationship that really spans over seven decades. But I think one of the real hallmarks of today is the economic cooperation. And if you have strong economic engagement between two countries, that really is foundational to a strong security relationship as well,” Tillerson said.

“Today we announced 23 foreign investment export licenses leading to upwards of more than $350 billion of historic direct investment; 109 billion of that is in arms sales to bolster the security of our Saudi partners. And these are going to result in literally hundreds of thousands of American jobs created by these direct investments in purchases of American goods, American equipment, American technology, but also investment into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well.”

Tillerson added: “The intended sales of the defense packages in particular fall into five broad categories: border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air force modernization, air and missile defense, cyber security and communications upgrades.”

“The package of defense equipment and services supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the entire Gulf region, in particular in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats which exist on Saudi Arabia’s borders on all sides … Additionally, it bolsters the Kingdom’s ability to provide for its own security and continuing contributing to counterterrorism operations across the region. And the important part of this is this huge arms sales package reduces the burden on the United States to provide the same equipment to our own military forces and will strengthen Saudi security forces for the future so that Saudi Arabia is more capable of carrying a greater share of the burden of their own security.”

The US Secretary of State also hailed the new counterterrorism initiative that will see the inauguration in Riyadh on Sunday of the new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology.

“This will be a Saudi-led hub for defeating extremism in the information space. As you’ve heard us say often, we have to defeat ISIS on the battlefield, but we really have to defeat ISIS in the cyberspace,” noted the US official.

“Our partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, will be signing a new agreement tomorrow (Sunday) to close gaps in many of these areas, including the financial infrastructure which terrorists can exploit,” Tillerson revealed.

On countering Iran’s meddling in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, he told reporters: “We are closely coordinating our efforts in terms of how to counter Iran’s extremism and its export of extremism, in particular its support for foreign fighters, its payment of foreign fighters, its support of militia that are operating not just in Yemen but in Iraq and in Syria.”

“The leadership really starts here in the Kingdom, with the strong leadership of His Royal Highness as well as the Crown Prince, the Deputy Crown Prince, and certainly the Foreign Minister. They have been wonderful and very strong conveners of others who are likeminded in terms of this fight against terrorism broadly, but specifically Iran’s role in supporting extremist organizations.”

Despite asserting that he will not reject any proposal to hold dialogue, Tillerson ruled out the possibility of contacting his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif any time soon.

“I’ve never shut off the phone to anyone that wants to talk or have a productive conversation. At this point, I have no plans to call my counterpart in Iran, although, in all likelihood, we will talk at the right time,” he said.

On Rouhani’s re-election, he stated: “He now has a new term and we hope he uses that term to begin a process of dismantling Iran’s network of terrorism, dismantling its financing of that terrorist network, dismantling the manning and the logistics and everything that they provide to these destabilizing forces that exist in this region. That’s what we hope he does.”

On Yemen, Tillerson reiterated the US position that is focusing on reaching a political solution and pressuring the insurgents on the ground.

“Our emphasis is on finding a political solution. We view it as a tragic situation, obviously of millions of people on the brink of starvation, because of the impact of the fighting. But we also think it’s important to put the pressure on the parties to come to the table and talk.”

“The rebels in Yemen and those that have taken over the government in Yemen, have overthrown the government, have to know they cannot sustain this fight. They have to know that they will never – they will never prevail militarily. But they’re only going to feel that when they feel the resistance militarily, so it’s important we keep the pressure on them. And many of the armaments we’re providing to Saudi Arabia will help them be much more precise and targeted with many of their strikes, but it’s important that pressure be kept on the rebels in Yemen.”