Barzani Condemns Court Order ‘Targeting’ his Deputy amid Kurdish Displacement

Riyadh, Baghdad, Washington – The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud made on Thursday a telephone call to Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, during which they reviewed bilateral relations between both countries in various fields and ways of enhancing and developing them through the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council.

The King’s phone call is the second to al-Abadi in a week, after he had called the prime minister last Sunday to assert Saudi Arabia’s support for the unity, security and stability of Iraq.

The Saudi-Iraqi talks came as Washington announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would kick off on Friday a tour that involves Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, India and Switzerland.

A statement released by the State Department said that Tillerson would first travel to Riyadh, where he would take part in the inaugural Coordination Council meeting between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Secretary will also meet with various Saudi leaders to discuss the conflict in Yemen, the ongoing Gulf dispute, Iran, and a number of other important regional and bilateral issues.

Concerning the latest developments in Iraq, an Iraqi Court issued on Thursday an arrest warrant for Kurdish Vice President Kosrat Rasul for publicly insulting Iraqi forces.

The court order came following Rasul’s latest comments in which he said the Iraqi forces in Kirkuk were “occupying forces.”

Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani issued a statement condemning the arrest warrant and said the court’s decision “is political and it clearly shows what the ruling mentality in Baghdad is like.”

Meanwhile, Kurdish officials confirmed that around 100,000 Kurds were displaced from Kirkuk as they fear revenge after the Iraqi forces controlled the city.

For its part, the UN expressed concern “about reports regarding the destruction and looting of houses, businesses and political offices, and forced displacement of civilians, predominantly Kurds, from disputed areas.”

Abadi Says Referendum is Over, Calls for Dialogue ‘Under the Constitution’

Riyadh, Baghdad, Irbil- The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz briefed the Cabinet Tuesday on a telephone conversation he held with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during which the King stressed Riyadh’s support for Iraq’s unity, security, stability, and the adherence of all parties to the country’s constitution for the interest of Iraq and its people.

The King chaired the Cabinet session at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh on Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, as Kurdish Peshmerga forces continued to gradually withdraw from the disputed areas between Baghdad and Irbil, Abadi announced that the Kurdistan region’s referendum on independence is over.

“The referendum is finished and has become a thing of the past,” Abadi said in a press conference on Tuesday.

He called for a dialogue with the Kurdish leadership “under the Constitution.”

For his part, Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani said that after the withdrawal, the new borders between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces would be as they were before the Mosul operation launched on Oct. 17, 2016.

However, Barzani said: “The loud voices you raised for the independence of Kurdistan that you sent to all nations and world countries will not be wasted now or ever.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi President Fouad Massoum held the Kurdistan Region president, without naming him, responsible for what happened in Kirkuk.

In a statement, Massoum said that he had exerted immense efforts to reach a solution between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Region government, but said the “latter insisted to hold the referendum.”

The president also called on all parties to engage in urgent dialogue to prevent a worsening of the crisis in Iraq and he reminded everyone that they should resort to the constitution to solve the crisis in Kirkuk.

On Tuesday, the Peshmerga forces withdrew from the disputed area of Khanaqin, near the border with Iran.

Meanwhile, Reuters quoted oil officials in Baghdad as saying that all the fields near Kirkuk were working normally on Tuesday after coming under the central government’s control.

Reuters said Iraq’s dollar-denominated bonds jumped nearly one cent on Tuesday, more than making up for Monday’s losses.

Bahrain FM: Qatar Orbits Iran, Failed to Present Initiative to Resolve Crisis

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Manama – Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad Al Khalifa said that Qatar was still “orbiting Iran”, adding: “We have not seen any sign of Qatar’s initiative to resolve the crisis, so we are still waiting for this step.”

“We are not losers,” he said. “We are concerned about the stability and prosperity of our countries, the security and progress of our peoples before anything else, and it is up to them – the Qataris – if they want to resolve their crisis or not.”

On the Gulf Summit in Kuwait, the Bahraini minister said: “The summit [will be held] on time, upon an invitation by the host country.”

Asked about US President Donald Trump’s remarks on the possibility to terminate the nuclear deal with Iran, Sheikh Khaled said: “We welcomed his speech and the strategy he put forward, and we have been waiting for it for a long time.”

He explained: “Bahrain welcomed this strategy because it is one of the countries that have suffered the most from Iranian terrorism and Iranian interventions, and we are waiting for this strategy to progress and achieve its objectives and not be withdrawn.”

The Bahraini minister underlined the convergence of the strategy launched by Trump with the vision of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain towards Iran’s role in the region.

“Now we see a clearer picture than before, a sound vision and a sense of danger in the region, where Iran represents the greatest threat to security and stability,” he noted.

Saudi Arabia Welcomes Hamas, Fatah Reconciliation Deal

Saudi Arabia welcomed the reconciliation of rival factions Hamas and Fatah and said it will help Palestinians to gain their legitimate rights, the state news agency SPA reported on Friday.

Citing an official source in the kingdom’s foreign ministry, SPA said Saudi Arabia hopes the reconciliation will “realize the brotherly Palestinian people’s hope of ending divisions and achieving unity”.

According to Reuters, Hamas and Fatah signed the reconciliation agreement on Thursday after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing, a decade after seizing the enclave in a civil war.

The deal brokered by Egypt bridges a bitter gulf between the Western-backed mainstream Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, a movement designated as a terrorist group by Western countries.

Palestinian unity could also bolster Abbas’s hand in any revival of talks on a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory. Internal Palestinian strife has been a major obstacle to peacemaking, with Hamas having fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and continuing to call for its destruction.

Hamas’s agreement to transfer administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government marked a major reversal, prompted partly by its fears of financial and political isolation after its main patron and donor, Qatar, plunged in June into a major diplomatic dispute with key allies like Saudi Arabia.

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across Gaza on Thursday in celebration of the unity pact, with loudspeakers on open cars blasting national songs, youths dancing and hugging and many waving Palestine and Egyptian flags.

Egypt helped mediate several previous attempts to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank, where Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) are based.

Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but the deal soon dissipated in mutual recriminations with Hamas continuing to dominate Gaza.

Japan Ready to Support Saudi SMEs, Increase Joint Investments

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Riyadh – The Saudi-Japanese Business Council discussed on Monday in Riyadh means to overcome obstacles, bolster investments and support the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sector.

The council said that recent talks between the two countries paved the way for increasing the volume of bilateral trade to reach around $27 billion in 2016, adding that about 6 percent of the Kingdom’s total imports came from Japan, while around 11 percent of Saudi exports were directed toward the Asian country.

Tareq al-Qahtani, head of the Saudi side of the Saudi-Japanese Business Council, noted that Saudi Arabia was one of the countries that attracts foreign investments due to the abundance of natural resources and its economic, political and social stability.

He said he hoped investments would increase remarkably with the establishment of the Saudi-Japanese Investment Company and the implementation of programs aimed at promoting trade and attracting further investments within the framework of Saudi Vision 2030.

The joint meeting held on Monday between the Saudi-Japanese Business Council and the Council of Saudi Chambers reviewed ways to enhance trade and investment relations between the business sectors and introduce investment opportunities available in both countries. It was attended by about 100 Saudi and Japanese investors and representatives of Saudi and Japanese companies operating in different sectors.

For his part, Hiroshi Saito, chairman of the Council’s Japanese side, reaffirmed his country’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with the Kingdom in various sectors and exchange expertise in areas of mutual interest in the light of the Saudi-Japanese Vision 2030.

The Japanese official underlined the importance of enhancing trade cooperation to boost the volume of trade exchange and opening the door to investment to the private sector to reach wider horizons for joint cooperation.

He also expressed his country’s willingness to support the Saudi SMEs sector, noting that Japan had a distinguished experience in this regard.

Saudi Expresses Strong Reservations over Misleading UN Report on Yemen

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New York, Jeddah — Saudi Arabia rejected on Friday information and numbers listed in a UN report that blames the Saudi-led coalition for killing or injuring 683 children in Yemen, describing the report as “inaccurate and misleading.”

Saudi UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said in a statement that his country exercises the maximum degree of care and precaution to avoid civilian harm.

Also on Friday, sources close to the situation in Yemen said there is evidence provided by the Yemeni National Committee for Investigation proving that Houthi militias falsified the death certificates of children who were claimed dead in the Coalition air strikes.

“There are more than 100 falsified death certificates, which prove that the numbers listed in the UN Secretary General’s annual Children and armed conflict report (CAAC) were inaccurate,” the sources said.

In a press conference held on Friday in New York, the Saudi ambassador said: “the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the coalition reaffirm that it is taking important measures to protect civilians during all military operations to end the suffering of the Yemeni people and minimize the humanitarian cost.”

In a report submitted to the UN Security Council on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition for its 2016 actions.

The Saudi diplomat said his country had reservations on listing the Arab Coalition in the second section of the UN report concerning the situation of civilians and children in Yemen.

“We reject the inaccurate and misleading information and figures contained in the report that were gathered from biased sources and we express our strong reservation with respect to this information.”

Al Mouallimi blamed the Iran-allied Al Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh for putting civilians at risk, including using children as human shields.

Saudi Arabia and Russia are not Foes

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With steady steps, Russia returned over the past decade to the Middle Eastern arena. This coincides with the development of its relations with Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, the Syrian regime, and surely Iran.

However, Moscow’s relations with Saudi Arabia were going through rocky roads after which tensions became high following different positions on the Syrian crisis.

The first thing that comes to mind when discussing the relations between the two countries is the Syrian issue. It remained a complicated point of disagreement between both countries and a barrier to the development of the bilateral relations despite several attempts.

However, after decades of discords, June 2015 was crucial in restoring the Saudi-Russian relations during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Russia under the directives of King Salman.

Riyadh and Moscow reached an inevitable result in their future relations that they would rather focus more on common interests available in promising fields rather than disagreeing on issues that affected them negatively.

One can say that Riyadh succeeded back then in breaking the ice in its relations with Moscow.

Prince Mohammed’s visit was reflected in the country’s success to overcome the Syrian crisis. They both realized that what brings them together is much more important than disparities.

King Salman’s current visit to Russia is a decisive development in the course of Saudi-Russian relations. The visit aims to eliminate elements that affected the relations, or as the Russian Ambassador in Saudi Arabia said that some parties are trying to target the Saudi-Russian relations through the Syrian issue.

Through King Salman’s visit to Russia, a new phase of a coalition began based on joint interests that will be reflected on the region’s stability and security which is a strategic goal both Riyadh and Moscow aim to reach.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia continues to present itself as a regional and international player that is indispensable.

Saudi foreign policymakers are credited for taking into consideration long-term planning in their relations with Russia through a packet of strategic relations.

Side differences or even special relations with the West can’t hinder the success of the Saudi-Russian partnership.

Saudis are also credited for adopting a balanced foreign policy based on diverse options through openness to Russia as well as other international forces.

Saudi policy aims to diversify its activity with different partners which grant it the ability to manage the international relations on common interests.

Needless to say that as soon as this partnership is activated economically, commercially, and militarily Moscow will have to balance its complicated relationship with Iran.

Architects of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy are aware of this aspect especially after Tehran took advantage that Riyadh steered clear of Kremlin’s maze.

Indeed, Riyadh disagrees with Moscow on the Syrian issue. But, at the time it is adopting a realistic policy aimed at establishing partners and not allies on the basis of exchanged interests, Saudi Arabia realizes that there is a lot to be achieved from strong relations with Russia.

With 60 percent of Russia’s budget revenues from oil imports, the kingdom is aware that Moscow prioritizes a sort of coordination and agreement with Riyadh on oil prices and production.

For the first time, the two countries succeeded in leading the international oil market out of the most critical crisis. They managed to leave the bottleneck and reach a price close to $60 after it fell below $28 two years ago.

During an energy forum in Moscow attended by several OPEC oil ministers, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday: “Everyone is interested in a stable market. What we did with OPEC, I believe, is beneficial for all the global economy.”

Saudi Arabia and Russia appeared as though they were enemies separated by miles apart. Several attempts to reproach the two countries failed until facts and realities proved that the two states are not like that at all.

King Salman’s visit to Russia is a historic moment that will drive both countries closer and the relations will enter a new phase of further understanding and deeper cooperation.

State Security Arrests 21 Saudis, One Qatari for Incitement

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Riyadh – The Saudi State Security announced on Wednesday the arrest of 21 Saudis and a Qatari citizen who were all involved in inciting the public opinion and encouraging the commitment of illegal acts.

An official source at the Saudi authority said that the state security service has “monitored circulated video clips on social media websites that include different topics, which ignite the public interest and stir feelings towards issues that are still in consideration.”

The videos included “direct and indirect incitement to commit acts against the law and order”, according to the same sources.

The state security body has managed to identify the persons involved in posting these videos, which included 21 Saudis and one Qatari. They are currently being investigated for motives and affiliations, the sources noted.

The recent arrests were based on Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law, which punishes by “imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and a fine of not more than SAR3 million, a number of crimes, including the production of anything that violates public order, religious values, morals and the inviolability of private life, or the preparation, transmission or storage of it through the internet or a computer.”

Also on Wednesday,  Saudi security forces arrested 24 people involved in incitement and spreading rumors in Hail region, spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior said.

The ministry noted that the authorities, which were carrying out legal procedures in a social case in Hail, have noticed that “some of those who are involved in the case had exploited social networking sites to disseminate lies and exaggerations about the circumstances of the case. They did so in order to stir sedition and to push the ordinary people to commit what is undesirable.”

The security authorities managed to arrest 24 suspects for their involvement in incitement and dissemination of rumors, including the person who created a ‘hashtag’ on a social networking site for that purpose, according to the ministry’s spokesperson.

King Salman Visits Russia Thursday, $10 Billion in Joint Projects

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Riyadh- Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz will kick off next Thursday his official visit to Russia where he will discuss with President Vladimir Putin joint cooperation between the two countries in addition to regional and international issues, mainly the region’s crises.

Abdurrahman Al-Rasi, Saudi ambassador to Russia, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday that the visit of the Saudi King that came in response to an invitation from President Putin, would boost bilateral relations.

“We will see a qualitative leap of those relations in various domains of cooperation,” the ambassador said.

Al-Rasi described the visit as important in its content and timing for being King Salman’s first trip to Russia in the historic and long-term relations between both countries.

“The visit crowns the Saudi-Russian relations following the trips made by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier, minister of Defense and chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs to Russia in the last two years,” he said.

The Saudi diplomat also said that the King’s visit would have a great impact, not only on boosting mutual relations between both countries, but on the situation in the entire region.

“This trip will surely help finding solutions to many crises in the region,” Al-Rasi said.

Meanwhile, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in an interview broadcast by Al Arabiya TV on Monday that Saudi Arabia and Russia plan to set up a $1 billion fund to invest in energy projects.

“Our focus is not just on strengthening our cooperation within the framework of the OPEC and non-OPEC (agreement) but also the strengthening of cooperation in oil, gas, electricity renewable energy and other projects for oil and gas equipment,” he told the television channel regarding the fund’s activities.

Novak said that the Saudi-Russian sides have already set $10 billion to fund joint projects in several other fields than the oil sector.

Saudi-Russian Summit Next Thursday

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Moscow- The Kremlin said it hopes that the upcoming visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud to Moscow next week will give a new powerful impetus to the development of bilateral relations with Riyadh which is the leader of the Arab world.

“Russia is interested in maintaining a dialogue, including in the framework of the discussion of the situation in the Middle East and Syria,” the press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.

King Salman is expected to arrive in Moscow next Wednesday on an official visit to Russia.

A summit between the Saudi King and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be held on Thursday to discuss enhancing and developing bilateral relations, and would also tackle a number of regional and international issues. The visit will last until Sunday.

“We hope that this visit will give a new powerful impetus to the development of bilateral relations, because the potential of our relations is much richer than the de facto situation, and we want to develop our dialogue in every possible way,” Peskov said.

Saudi King’s official visit will also witness the signing of Russia of a number of memorandums and agreements with 6 Saudi governmental bodies.

Two Saudi companies will also sign a number of deals with four Russian companies. The visit will also see the delivery of a number of investment permits.

Asked whether the visit of King Salman constitutes a sign of the rapprochement of positions between Moscow and Riyadh, particularly concerning the Syrian crisis, Peskov said: “Saudi Arabia is a state that plays an important role in Arab and inter-Arab affairs. It is the leader of the Arab world.”

He added that Russia is undoubtedly interested to keep its dialogue with the Kingdom.