Supporting Lebanese Army is Main Item in Upcoming Putin-Hariri Talks


Beirut- The visit of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Moscow and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin next Monday carries several revealed titles, such as supporting the Lebanese Army to face terrorism and discuss the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon.

The visit also carries concealed political headings, which are very sensitive to Kremlin.

Putin and Hariri are expected to tackle the fate of head of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad in the transitional political phase in Syria.

Observers close to Hariri do not deny that the prime minister’s mission in Moscow would be difficult, as Hariri might not be capable to convince Putin to give up the Assad paper.

Head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, Sami Nader told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Russian president knows that Hariri represents an Arab and regional voice.

For his part, member of the Future parliamentary bloc MP Okab Sakr said that Hariri’s visit to the Russian capital plans to mainly discuss the Lebanese situation, considering that Moscow is now a main player in the Middle East and the Arab world.

“Hariri hopes that Russia plays a positive role in the region, which would also reflects positively on Russia itself,” Sakr told Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday, adding that the prime minister talks in Moscow will push in this direction.

The deputy spoke about the importance of improving relations between Beirut and Moscow.

“The Lebanese Prime Minister will have a real say in the Syrian file as Lebanon is highly affected by the Syrian crisis, and was previously occupied by the Syrian regime,” Sakr said.

Despite the difficulty to change Russia’s position vis-à-vis Assad’s presence in Syria, Sakr uncovered that “in the backstage, the Russian leadership knows that Assad has no role in the future of Syria, but the problem lies in who will replace Assad during the transitional phase.”

He said that Hariri has no illusion that he could change the position of Putin, but, at least the prime minister will show the Russian president the dangers of keeping Assad and their repercussions on the future of both Syria and Lebanon.

Le Drian in Jeddah to Tackle Qatar’s Crisis

Jeddah- Amid speculations about additional escalations and a long estrangement in the Qatari crisis, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arrives in Jeddah on Saturday as part of his Gulf tour that follows similar trips made by his US, British and German counterparts in the past weeks.

Le Drian’s two-day visit to the region includes Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and aims for “a rapid de-escalation” of the crisis.

According to a French official statement, Le Drian’s tour seeks to bring the viewpoints closer between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet, which broke off last month diplomatic relations with Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorism and interfering in their internal affairs.

The statement issued by the French Embassy in Riyadh said that the Foreign Minister would meet on Saturday with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, deputy premier and minister of defense, as well as his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir. The two men will then hold a joint press conference on Saturday night.

During his Gulf tour, Le Drian also hopes that France could contribute in the Kuwaiti-led mediation that is fully supported by Paris.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had wrapped up on Thursday his Gulf tour that aimed to reach a progress in breaking the deadlock between Qatar and the Anti-Terror Quartet. However, Tillerson left without making any statement or holding any press conference.

For his part, UAE’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Friday that the Qatari crisis is not going to end anytime soon, adding the Arab quartet and Doha were “heading into a long estrangement.”

Commenting on his Twitter account, Gargash said the four countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain have every right to protect their sovereignties, adding that the boycott will be strengthened.

“We are headed for a long estrangement … we are very far from a political solution involving a change in Qatar’s course, and in light of that nothing will change and we have to look for a different format of relations,” he said.

Military, Economic Agreements During Trump’s Visit to Saudi Arabia


Washington, Riyadh – The schedule of US President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia was uncovered on Tuesday with additional details about the 17th consultative meeting of leaders of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for Arab States, Gulf-US Summit, and Arab-Islamic-US Summit to be hosted by the Kingdom next weekend.

US National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster said during a press briefing at the White House in Washington Tuesday that his country “will participate in a signing ceremony of several agreements that will further solidify US-Saudi security and economic cooperation.”

Trump will make Saudi Arabia his initial stop this Saturday on his first official trip overseas, before visiting Israel and the Vatican.

After the arrival ceremony in Riyadh, the president will have coffee with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, attend a royal banquet, and hold bilateral meetings with the King, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, McMaster said.

He added that on Saturday evening, Trump and the first lady would join members of the Saudi royal family for an official dinner.

On Sunday, “Trump will hold bilateral meetings with GCC leaders, as well as broader meetings with Gulf state leaders. In the afternoon, he will meet and have lunch with leaders of more than 50 Muslim countries where he will deliver an inspiring, yet direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and on his hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world,” McMaster said.

According to McMaster, Trump’s “speech is intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners”.

On Monday, King Salman welcomed the visits of Trump and the leaders of Arab and Islamic countries and asserted that the Saudi-US Summit’s talks, expected on May 20, “will contribute to strengthening and enhancing strategic relations between the two countries in various fields.

Early this month, Trump said he would start a “truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world.”

On Tuesday, Trump had a telephone call with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

The President had also called his Egyptian counterpart President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to express his commitment to further “robust strategic relations” and partnership between the two countries.

The office of el-Sisi quoted Trump as saying in the call on Monday night that he looks forward to meeting el-Sisi during the Arab-Islamic-American summit in Saudi Arabia on May 21.

US Media Realizes Trump Visit to Saudi Arabia as a Strong Statement to Iran, ISIS


Washington – United States media on Friday turned the spotlight to the first foreign trip by US President Donald Trump, who chose Saudi Arabia to be his first stop.

Newspapers pointed out that Trump seeks to rally a strong coalition against extremism. Statements by White House officials said Trump will leave Washington on May 19 to Saudi Arabia and then to Jerusalem.

Trump is also scheduled to participate at the NATO meeting to be held in Brussels on 24 May. He then will depart for Sicily, where he will meet G7 leaders on May 26.

The New York Times published a piece by Mark Landler and Peter Baker which pointed out that President Trump tour visits the three epicenters of Abrahamic religions.

When Trump announced Thursday that he would visit the centers of three great religions on his first foreign trip, his advisers presented it as a sign that the United States planned to marshal a powerful coalition against the forces of intolerance.

Trump’s stops — in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome — are equally revealing as a contrast to the first trip to the Middle East made by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, Landler and Baker wrote.

The stark differences between that trip, in June 2009, and Trump’s later this month speak to how the world has changed in the last eight years and how this new president plans to confront it, they added.

Brookings Institution Executive Vice President Martin Indyk reviewed Trump’s approach as to positively interact and discuss with Arab leaders, and not address the people like Obama’s strategy tended towards.

“Obama’s approach was to build support with the Arab public through his Cairo speech,” said Indyk. “Trump’s approach is to deal with the Arab leaders, not speak to their people, which is much more comfortable for the leaders,” he added.

The trip was announced a day after Trump hosted President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority at the White House, the latest of his meetings with Middle Eastern leaders, including those from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung wrote that Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican is an effort to unite Islam, Judaism and Christianity in the common cause of fighting “intolerance” and radical extremism.

Trump is getting a later start going abroad than his most recent predecessors, who made earlier foreign trips. His decision to make the Middle East his first destination also represents a sharp break from recent tradition, DeYoung wrote.

The Post’s reporter also cited Trump’s apparent willingness to deal with authoritarian governments without pressuring them on human rights, Trump said, “our task is not to dictate to others how to live but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the Middle East.”

DeYoung also wrote that in the peace process and the fight against terror group ISIS, Trump is depending heavily on Saudi Arabia — the country granted his first presidential visit. Often exasperated with what they saw as President Barack Obama’s dithering on Syria and soft treatment of Iran, the Saudis have enthusiastically reached out to Trump, including a visit here by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March.

Trump “wants to restore the American role in the world . . . destroy terrorism . . . push back on Iran. And so do we,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in a meeting with reporters Thursday in Washington.

Trump’s visit will be historic “by every measure,” Jubeir said, noting that Saudi Arabia is the indispensable partner for Trump’s regional goals, in addition to being a key US investor and trading partner.

Jubeir said there will be three separate summits with Trump in Riyadh, the Saudi capital — with King Salman, with the Gulf Cooperation Council of Persian Gulf countries and with a broadened group including other Arab and Muslim countries that he declined to name.

Administration officials said they foresaw a number of agreements to be announced after the meetings, where discussions are expected to include a new military coalition among friendly Muslim states.

Trump to Sisi: We are Very Much Behind Egypt


Washington, Baghdad – US President Donald Trump turned the page of the tensed relations with Egypt, which was witnessed during the rule of his predecessor Barack Obama, by offering Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during their meeting at the White House on Monday full support and by vowing to join hands facing terrorism.

“I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt,” Trump told the press before his bilateral meeting with his Egyptian counterpart.

For his part, Sisi told Trump: “I’ve had a deep appreciation and admiration of your unique personality, especially as you are standing very strong in the counterterrorism field to counter this evil ideology that is claiming innocent lives.”

Sisi’s official visit to the US is the first since he assumed power in 2014. Former President Obama had never extended an official invitation to Sisi to visit Washington.

Obama also froze for two years all aids offered to Egypt after Sisi, then the country’s general, overthrew president Mohamed Morsi, who is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, in mid-2013 after mass protests against Morsi’s rule.

Separately, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, flew on Monday to Iraq with Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, to get a first-hand assessment of the battle against ISIS.

Kushner’s first visit to Iraq comes as Trump is looking into possibilities of escalating the US-led coalition campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The visit also reveals the wide-range domestic and foreign policy responsibilities given to Kushner, including working on a Middle East peace deal.

Dunford’s spokesman, Navy Captain Greg Hicks, said Kushner was traveling on behalf of Trump to express the president’s support and commitment to Iraq’s government and US personnel helping combat ISIS.

Prince William’s Visit to Paris Revives Memories of his Mother

Paris- Prince William, the duke of Cambridge, and his spouse Kate have concluded a two-day visit to the French capital.

Their visit revived memories of the Prince’s mother Princess Diana, who died in a car accident in Paris almost 20 years ago. The French media described the prince’s visit with his beautiful wife an attempt to stress the close relations between Britain and France after tension caused by Brexit.

The prince’s visit included a meeting with President François Hollande at the Elysee. As a member of the British royal family, the French guard welcomed him with a special salutation in the palace’s square, which was filled with press photographers covering the event. Hollande accompanied his guests on a tour in the palace and invited them to revisit the Elysee although he will be leaving the presidency in a few weeks.

The Prince, who is the head of the Welsh Rugby Union, also attended the Six Nations rugby game between Wales and France at the Stade de France.

Prince William’s trip to France is the first on the diplomatic level and came among a series of planned visits to European capitals, aiming to break the United Kingdom’s isolation caused by its separation from the European Union.

According to sources, this visit came at an urgent request from the foreign office organizing the Kingdom’s relations with the Commonwealth countries and its foreign allies. But the French people’s interest in the young prince’s visit was focused on his personality as second in line to the throne, and on the admiration of youth to him and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge.

British Ambassador Lord Edward Llewellyn stated that since he arrived to the city of light, Prince William felt the French people’s deep affection towards the British royal family.

People’s eyes focused on the Duchess of Cambridge’s look and the dress she wore during a dinner held at their honor at the ambassador’s residence near the Elysee.

Although the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had visited Paris before, it was the first time the couple toured the Musée d’Orsay and the Eiffel Tour like any other tourist.

The French public, especially the Parisian ladies, looked forward to see Kate’s dresses; on the Elysee’s gate, welcomed by Hollande, the duchess appeared wearing a double-breasted grey coat; then, during the dinner held by the ambassador, she wore an elegant off-the-shoulder evening dress with white and green flower prints.

Parisian magazines prepared a bouquet of old pictures featuring Princess Diana in evening attires and compared them with her daughter-in-law’s looks. Among the British Ambassador’s hosts were stars Jean Reno and Audrey Tautou, along with the talented tailors who designed Kate’s wedding dress.

At the Invalides hospital, William and Kate were clearly touched by the plight of those injured in the 2015 Paris terror attacks.

Talks in Beirut about Return of Coordination with Damascus


Beirut, Cairo – Talks in Beirut about a coordination with Damascus brought back an old plan proposed in the term of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati and was postponed for creating divisions concerning its content.

Those same disputes emerged between members of the new government headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, with fears that the issue of the Syrian refugees would constitute a door for normalizing relations with the Syrian regime.

On Sunday, Secretary General of the so-called Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah urged the government to coordinate with Damascus to help refugees to return now that large areas of Syria are “safe.”

Separately, President Michel Aoun called on Cairo to form an Arab rescue initiative based on a joint strategy to combat terrorism and find political solutions for the crises in the Arab world, particularly in Syria.

“Egypt, which is known for its moderation and openness, could launch an Arab rescue initiative to fight against terrorism which we have suffered from both in Lebanon and Egypt. Violence cannot anchor peace. It rather spaces borders and exacerbates divisions,” Aoun said, adding that “there is no salvation for our two countries but via full solidarity against terrorism.”

Aoun was speaking Monday at a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Abdul Fatah Al-Sissi in Cairo where he is on an official visit.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian, also met the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, and held talks with Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb of Al-Azhar, the highest institution of Sunni Islam.

The Lebanese president stressed the need to consolidate the joint Egyptian-Lebanese Higher Committee’s activities.

For his part, Sissi said both men tackled bilateral cooperation between the two countries and discussed regional issues such as terrorism and the Syrian crisis. The Egyptian president said: “Egypt will continue to support the Lebanese Army in its fight against terrorism.”

Saudi-Turkish Summit in Riyadh Today


Riyadh – A Saudi-Turkish summit headed by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected in Riyadh on Tuesday to discuss the special joint relations between the two countries.

Late on Monday, Erdogan arrived to Saudi Arabia, the second leg of his four-day trip to three Gulf countries, including Bahrain and Qatar, and was received by King Salman at King Khalid International Airport.

The Saudi-Turkish talks are expected to tackle regional issues, particularly the latest developments in Syria and events in Iraq.

Turkish analysts and deputies said Erdogan’s planned trip to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar came “in a very crucial timing,” due to developments in some regional files, in addition to the change of the U.S. administration and its positions regarding regional issues.

Turkish MP Juma İçten told Asharq Al-Awsat that the latest developments in Syria had particularly boosted the importance of Erdogan’s Gulf tour and his meeting with King Salman.

Erdogan announced on Sunday that Turkish troops and their Free Syrian Army allies had entered the center of شl-Bab in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo. Turkey now plans to move to Raqqa, the last ISIS stronghold in the area.

“Moving to Raqqa needs coordination between regional countries, on top of which is Saudi Arabia, a country that could play a leading role to support Turkey in coordinating with the U.S. administration to plan a battle in which Turkey rejects the participation of Kurdish forces,” the Turkish deputy said.

General Coordinator at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), Burhanettin Duran told Asharq Al-Awsat that the international system has entered a new phase and it seems that U.S. President Donald Trump is heading towards changing the leadership role played by his country at the international level.

“This change will not only affect the balance of powers in Europe, but will also touch developments in the Middle East.”

Duran said Trump sees the Middle East from a perspective of fighting terrorism. Therefore, Duran said the next phase might witness a confrontation with Iran, under the slogan of fighting countries that are financing terrorism. He said this new strategy aims to appease the fears of Israel and Gulf countries as it contradicts the one followed by former President Barack Obama, who had followed a reconciliatory policy with Tehran.

“We should look at all those developments as a sign of dangerous geopolitical changes in the region,” Duran said.

King of Bahrain Visits the UAE and Meets Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi

The Bahraini monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed ways of strengthening the friendly relations between the two countries and a number of regional and international issues during the King of Bahrain’s visit to the UAE yesterday.

The two sides stressed the importance of strengthening consultation and coordination within the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC’s) progress, supporting joint action, achieving progress and prosperity for the people of the Gulf and confronting the various threats that are present. This coordination is based on the Gulf countries’ belief in their shared history, aims and goals, according to what Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported yesterday.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed stressed the depth of the fraternal and historic ties between the two countries, while stating that the UAE, led by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan always looks forward to strengthening its relations with Bahrain in a way that ensures the interests of the two countries and peoples.

The King of Bahrain also emphasised the close relations between the Kingdom and the UAE, and their joint efforts to further develop them. He praised the President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, for their role in supporting the GCC to defend its interests and Arab issues in order to guarantee security and stability in the region.

South Sudan Denies the Existence of a Diplomatic Crisis With Ethiopia

South Sudan strongly denied the existence of a diplomatic crisis with its neighbour Ethiopia and refuted news stories about Juba hosting the Ethiopian opposition in coordination with Egypt in order to work against Addis Ababa, and called this rumour a big lie.

A statement issued by the spokesman for the South Sudanese President Ateny Wek Ateny strongly denied the existence of diplomatic disagreements between South Sudan and neighbouring Ethiopia, and stressed that what has been circulating on social networking sites about Juba accepting Egypt’s request to support and harbour Ethiopian rebels in South Sudan, during President Salva Kiir’s visit to Cairo recently, as “a lie and cheap propaganda”. He continued by saying that the rumours are aimed at driving a wedge between the two neighbouring countries and that “allegations that the Ethiopian government expelled diplomats from South Sudan is not true”. He also said that “President Salva Kiir’s visit to Egypt was to develop bilateral relations between the two countries and has nothing to do with the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt”.

Ateny also explained that his country’s relations with Egypt are historic and that President Salva Kiir’s visit to Cairo was within the framework that permits every sovereign state to establish diplomatic relations with countries that have mutual interests. He added that “The issue of Ethiopian rebels and whatever cause they might be fighting for against the Ethiopian government has never crossed into President Kiir’s agenda with any political leader of any country before, even when Riek Machar was living in Addis Ababa”.