Riyadh and Najaf, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, met with Iraqi President Fuad Masoum at the Royal Palace in Riyadh on Tuesday evening, to discuss regional developments and steps to improve the relationship between the two countries.
Masoum’s visit to the Kingdom comes amid efforts by the new administration in Baghdad, led by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, to further cement relations with Iraq’s neighbors and regional allies during its current crisis.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on board his plane heading for the Saudi capital, the Iraqi president said the visit was “very important at this particular point in time, especially after the formation of the new Iraqi government.”
He added that he had “great hopes hanging on this visit, especially since it has received support from all Iraq’s political and religious factions.”
Shortly before heading to Riyadh, Masoum met with Iraq’s most prominent Shi’ite religious figures in Najaf, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the most senior Shi’ite cleric in the country.
Sources in the city, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, said the Shi’ite religious establishment in Najaf gave its blessing to the visit, stressing the necessity of improving Iraq’s relations with its Gulf neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.
Masoum told Asharq Al-Awsat in June he was keen to rebuild Iraq’s relationship with its Gulf allies—and singled out Saudi Arabia in particular—after a period of a relative discord under former premier Nuri Al-Maliki.
Masoum was accompanied on the visit by Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Interior Minister Mohamed Al-Ghabban, and Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Official Iraqi sources—speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media—told Asharq Al-Awsat the talks between King Abdullah and Masoum had been wide-ranging, but focused particularly on issues related national security and diplomatic relations.
President Masoum and the Iraqi delegation were greeted upon their arrival in Riyadh by Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz, who also serves as the Kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minister.
Also attending the meeting were the Kingdom’s Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal; Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Secretary-General of the Kingdom’s National Security Council; Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Bin Abdulaziz, Head of Saudi Intelligence; Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, Minister of the National Guard; and the Governor of Medina, Prince Turki Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz.
Hamza Mustafa contributed reporting from Najaf.