Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia, US ‘working closely on multiple fronts’ to resolve Middle East conflicts, says Fahad Nazer

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Updated 12 July 2021

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia, US ‘working closely on multiple fronts’ to resolve Middle East conflicts, says Fahad Nazer

  • Spokesperson for KSA embassy in Washington, DC says US-Saudi relations continue to strengthen, deepen and broaden
  • Appearing on Frankly Speaking, he set out the Kingdom’s view on many aspects of US policy vis-a-vis Middle East

DUBAI: Relations between Saudi Arabia and the US are strong and enduring, despite differences of opinion on some issues between the Kingdom and the administration of President Biden, Fahad Nazer, the chief spokesman of the Saudi embassy in Washington, told Arab News.

“Saudi-US relations are long-standing; they have endured for the past 75 years. Not only have they endured but they have continued to deepen and to strengthen and to broaden under both Republican and Democratic administrations,” he said.

But he cautioned that the Kingdom had concerns about some aspects of the Biden administration’s policy in the Middle East, notably the approach toward Iran.

“We’ve always had some concerns about the ‘sunset clauses’ of the agreement which in effect render it temporary in nature. We want something more permanent. And we also had concerns about the missile program in Iran, and perhaps most importantly we’ve always had concerns about not addressing Iran’s support of militant and non-state actors in the region,” he said.




The Iranian flag is shown in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor on November 10, 2019. (File/AFP)

Nazer, who has been the spokesman for Ambassador Princess Reema bint Bandar since 2019, was appearing on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading policy-makers.

In a wide-ranging conversation, he also set out the Kingdom’s view on many aspects of US policy toward the region, including the conflict in Yemen, the recent withdrawal of some Patriot air defense systems from Saudi Arabia, and the possibility of normalization of relations with Israel.

Nazer, a former journalist with Arab News in the US, also spoke of the need to have “open channels of communication” with the American media, which has sometimes been critical of Saudi Arabia.

He discussed the “multi-dimensional” relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.

“There’s a political component to it, there’s a military and security component, there’s an economic component and there’s a very much — somewhat underrated — people-to-people component as well, which explains why it has endured and withstood the test of time for so long,” he said.

In Yemen, Nazer said the two countries were cooperating on efforts to end the conflict, despite the Biden administration’s early decision to remove the Houthi rebels from the international terror designation.

“Saudi Arabia and the US are actually working very closely on multiple fronts to resolve a number of conflicts in the region, and the conflict and ongoing crisis in Yemen is certainly at the top of our agenda.




The Hashed al-Shaabi in Iraq is one of the militias supported by Iran, posing a threat to regional stability. (File/AFP)

“I think that our policies align to a great extent; we are both supportive of the UN efforts to resolve this conflict. We both are trying to advance a political resolution of the conflict. We are also both providers of humanitarian aid. In fact Saudi Arabia is the top provider of humanitarian aid to Yemen,” he said.

Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister, had meetings with top US officials on a recent visit to Washington. According to Nazer, “it’s very clear from our engagements with the administration and from the statements, especially from the Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking, that the US understands the threat that the Houthis present.”

He said that the recent removal of some Patriot air defense systems from the Kingdom did not amount to the US “turning its back” on Saudi Arabia.

“The cooperation on the security and military front remains a pillar of this relationship. I think the US appreciates and understands the real threat that Saudi Arabia faces on his southern border from the Houthi militia,” Nazer said.

“We also work very closely on countering the threat that the international community and the region faces from non-state actors and terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh.”




An Iranian delegation attends a meeting of the Joint Commission on Iran's nuclear program (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria, on December 6, 2019. (File/AFP)

The Kingdom and the US have had “ongoing and robust dialogue” about the negotiations with Iran over renewing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on nuclear policy. “We have made our concerns known about the JCPOA back when it was first signed, even though ultimately we did support it,” he said.

“We will support anything that ensures that Iran does not possess the knowhow or the technology to produce nuclear weapons.”

He added that Saudi Arabia maintains good relations with both ruling Democrats and Republicans in Congress over Iran. “It’s become clear to us over the past few months that the leadership in Congress understands the very serious security concerns that Saudi Arabia faces in Iran,” he said.

Normalization of relations between more Arab countries and Israel, following last year’s Abraham Accords, remained a possibility, he said, but would depend on progress toward the conditions of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative — a two-state solution and recognition of the 1967 borders.

“That deal is still on the table. We believe that once that core dispute is resolved and peace is reached between Israelis and Palestinians, that certainly opens the way not only for peace with Saudi Arabia but with the rest of the members of the Arab League,” Nazer said.

A recent visit by John Kerry, the US special envoy on climate, resulted in a joint statement by the US and the Kingdom on the need for international cooperation to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.

“Saudi Arabia is fully committed to sustainable development. We have embraced it. We’re taking the threat to our climate very seriously. We also believe that harnessing the power of science and technology will enable us to meet some of these challenges, including the challenges to our climate,” Nazer said.

He pointed out that the Kingdom has “competitive advantages” in technologies like wind and solar power, as well as advanced programs to develop carbon capture and other techniques to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Nazer also underlined the cooperation between the Kingdom and the US in the initiative to stabilize international energy markets after dramatic fluctuations in the price of oil since the pandemic struck.

Saudi foreign policy in recent years has made a feature to reach out to countries other than traditional allies in the West, like China, Russia and India. However, Nazer does not believe this will not be to the detriment of older alliances. “We do not see our foreign policy through a zero-sum prism,” he said.

Aside from political work in Washington, Nazer has been involved in a program of public diplomacy outside the capital, meeting business and civic leaders across the US and undertaking a series of media interviews around the country.




Saudi Embassy spokesman Fahad Nazer says much of his time is spent engaging with the US news media, which has not always given the Kingdom the easiest ride. (File/AFP)

“We have always obviously realized that the US is a big country and it’s become very clear to us that there are other groups outside Washington that are very much interested in developments in the Kingdom,” he said.

“They are interested in Vision 2030. So, we’re talking about whether it’s academic institutions, civil society groups and certainly the business community. We have made it a point to engage with all these communities, because it’s become clear that many of them want to maintain long-standing relationships.”

But the majority of his time is spent engaging with the US news media, which has not always given the Kingdom the easiest ride, especially over human-rights issues.

“Obviously the American press is a very big institution and — since your show is called Frankly Speaking — I will say, frankly speaking, some media outlets I think are perhaps more balanced than others. But we are genuinely open to engaging with any media outlet that is interested in anything Saudi related,” Nazer said.

He has had a chance to witness up close the diplomatic style of Princess Reema, the Kingdom’s first female ambassador and the daughter of legendary Saudi diplomat Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who was the ambassador in Washington for more than two decades.

“It has certainly been a privilege and an honor to work under the leadership of Princess Reema. She maintains excellent relations with officials here in Washington, but as you said she has also been speaking to all sorts of Americans outside of the capital over the past couple of years.

“I think she likes the US and I think she certainly feels passionately about the relationship,” Nazer said, adding: “I think that comes through in all her engagements.”

 

 

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Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Intense sandstorm envelops parts of Kingdom in gray haze

Updated 17 May 2022

Intense sandstorm envelops parts of Kingdom in gray haze

  • The thick blanket of sand made iconic buildings in Riyadh, such as Faisaliyah Tower, Kingdom Center, and other skyscrapers in the King Abdullah Financial District almost impossible to see
  • Cautioning motorists because of the the heavy sandstorm, the traffic department advised drivers to drive slow and exercise restraint, as well as keep their headlights on

RIYADH: An intense sandstorm engulfed several areas in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, hampering visibility due to the widespread dust, slowing road traffic and forcing authorities to issue a weather warning.

The sandstorm battered Riyadh, enveloping the Saudi capital’s skyline with gray haze. The thick blanket of sand made iconic buildings in Riyadh, such as Faisaliyah Tower, Kingdom Center, and other skyscrapers in the King Abdullah Financial District almost impossible to see from a distance of a few hundred meters.

Electronic signs along Riyadh’s highways warned drivers to reduce their speed because of the lower visibility.

Cautioning motorists because of the the heavy sandstorm, the traffic department advised drivers to drive slow and exercise restraint, as well as keep their headlights on.

The General Directorate of Civil Defense also advised Riyadh residents to avoid going to various outskirt spots in sands to avoid accidents during the blinding sandstorm.

There have been no flight delays or cancellations in Riyadh because of the sandstorm.

Issuing the daily weather forecast for the Kingdom, the National Center of Meteorology on Tuesday said: “The surface dusty winds will be active in the Eastern Region and some parts of Riyadh Region, reducing horizontal visibility, while the dusty wind will continue to occur in some parts of Qassim, Hail, Madinah, Makkah and Najran regions, extending to eastern parts of Baha and Asir regions, reducing horizontal sight.”

The report added that partly cloudy skies will be seen in some parts of Tabuk, the Northern Borders and Jawf regions.

The NCM added that surface wind movement in the Red Sea will be northerly to north-westerly at a speed of 25-45 kilometers per hour on northern and central parts, and westerly to north-westerly on southern parts at a speed of 15-35 kilometers per hour. Surface wind movement in the Arabian Gulf will be westerly to north-westerly at a speed of 25-45 kilometers per hour.

In Riyadh, the dusty weather has made it tough for outdoor workers, and residents have struggled to keep sand out of their homes.

Abdul Qadeer, a Bangladeshi construction worker, told Arab News: “The heavy sandstorm that started late last night and engulfed the city and its outskirts in gray haze this morning has made it really tough for us to continue working outdoors due to widespread dust.”

Though not infrequent for May — the sandstorm is the third to hit the Kingdom this month — Tuesday’s storm created unfavorable conditions, with the maximum temperature in Riyadh recorded at 38 degrees Celsius and the minimum at 24 degrees Celsius. The relative humidity was recorded at 11 percent.

Parts of Saudi Arabia typically experience sandstorms at the end of winter and advent of summer between March and May, with varying intensity.

Besides the Kingdom, Tuesday’s sandstorm has affected other countries in the region, including neighboring Iraq, which recorded its eighth sandstorm since mid-April, a phenomenon fueled by soil degradation, intense droughts and low rainfall linked to climate change.


Saudi King Salman leaves hospital, says royal court

Updated 16 May 2022

Saudi King Salman leaves hospital, says royal court

  • King Salman bin Abdulaziz was admitted to King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the city of Jeddah on May 7
  • He became ruler of the world’s top oil exporter in 2015 after spending over two years as crown prince

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 86, left hospital on Sunday following a colonoscopy last week, the royal court said in a statement on state media.
Saudi TV ran a video clip showing the monarch walking slowly using a cane as he left King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the city of Jeddah, where he was admitted on the evening of May 7.
An entourage kept close and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, appeared in the clip.
King Salman, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, became ruler of the world’s top oil exporter in 2015 after spending more than 2-1/2 years as the crown prince and deputy premier.
He underwent bladder surgery in 2020 and had the battery of his heart pacemaker replaced in March.


Saudi Aramco dethrones Apple to become world’s most valuable company

Updated 13 May 2022

Saudi Aramco dethrones Apple to become world’s most valuable company

  • Largest oil producing company in the world valued at $2.42 trillion based on the price of its shares at close of market
  • Apple has seen its share price drop over past month, was valued at $2.37 trillion when official trading ended Wednesday

SAN FRANCISCO: Saudi Aramco on Wednesday dethroned Apple as the world’s most valuable company as surging oil prices drove up shares and tech stocks slumped.
The Saudi Arabian national petroleum and natural gas company, billed as the largest oil producing company in the world, was valued at $2.42 trillion based on the price of its shares at close of market.
Apple, meanwhile, has seen its share price drop over the past month and was valued at $2.37 trillion when official trading ended on Wednesday.
The sinking share price came despite Apple reporting better-than-expected profits in the first three months of this year amid strong consumer demand.
But, Apple warned that the China Covid-19 lockdown and ongoing supply chain woes would dent June quarter results by $4 to $8 billion.
“Supply constraints caused by Covid-related disruptions and industry-wide silicon shortages are impacting our ability to meet customer demand for our products,” Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said on a conference call with analysts.
The results looked good following stumbles by some Big Tech peers as growth from the stay-at-home demand amid the pandemic slows and companies confront rising operating and labor costs.
Oil giant Saudi Aramco recently reported a 124 percent net profit surge for last year, hours after Yemeni rebels attacked its facilities causing a “temporary” drop in production.
As the world economy started to rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic, “Aramco’s net income increased by 124 percent to $110.0 billion in 2021, compared to $49.0 billion in 2020,” the company said.
The kingdom, one of the world’s top crude exporters, has been under pressure to raise output as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Moscow have roiled global energy markets.
Aramco president and CEO Amin Nasser cautioned that the company’s outlook remained uncertain due in part to “geopolitical factors.”
“We continue to make progress on increasing our crude oil production capacity, executing our gas expansion program and increasing our liquids to chemicals capacity,” Nasser said.
On the results, for 2021, he acknowledged that “economic conditions have improved considerably.”
A strong rebound last year saw demand for oil increase and prices recover from their 2020 lows.
Inflation could cause a drop in consumption, reducing demand for oil, while tech shares could continue to be dragged down by investor concerns over company costs, interest rate rises and supply chain woes.


Why Yanbu on the Red Sea is fast becoming one of Saudi Arabia’s must-visit destinations

Updated 13 May 2022

Why Yanbu on the Red Sea is fast becoming one of Saudi Arabia’s must-visit destinations

  • Beyond its scenic charm, favorable climate and natural beauty, Yanbu has a particular appeal for history buffs
  • own’s historic architecture, including a house where T. E. Lawrence once lived, have been faithfully restored

DUBAI: Just a few hours’ drive west of Madinah is the historic port town of Yanbu, the second largest settlement on Saudi Arabia’s western Red Sea coast. With its curious heritage and growing wealth of attractions, this unassuming coastal gem is fast becoming a must-visit destination in its own right.

Visitors to Yanbu can traipse along the town’s historic harbor, enjoy Red Sea-caught fish prepared in the local style, and explore the recently restored Souq Al-Lail, or night market, where they can buy local dates, green mulukhiyah leaves, as well as other sweets and delicacies.

At night, the old harbor area comes alive with locals flocking to outdoor eateries overlooking the tranquil waters, protected from the waves by unspoilt coral reefs that have long lured divers to the coastline.

Yanbu's iconic lighthouse overlooking the town's coastal area by the Red Sea. (Shutterstock)

As one of the oldest ports on the Red Sea, Yanbu has a history reaching back at least 2,500 years, when it served as a crucial staging post on the ancient spice and incense route from Yemen to Egypt and onward to the wider Mediterranean.

Its strategic importance in the world of commerce continues to this day. Further south along the coast from the idyllic old town is an important petroleum shipping terminal that is home to three oil refineries, a plastics factory, and several other petrochemical plants.

While Yanbu has long enjoyed a reputation as a place of commerce, it is now developing into something of a tourism hotspot.

The market in the heritage village of Yanbu Al-Nakhl. (Shutterstock)

“In the past, most tourists were from Saudi Arabia, but now we are getting more foreigners, from France, Germany, and the UK,” Ghazi Al-Enezi, who runs the Riyadh-based operator Ghazi Tours, told Arab News.

“Yanbu has been receiving many visitors via cruises from Jeddah, cities in Egypt and Jordan.”

In 2014, Al-Enezi was named the Best Tour Guide in the Kingdom by the Saudi government. Since then, his fledgling operation has grown into a successful enterprise, with 12 members of staff operating tours across the country and a wealth of local and international clients.

The Kingdom’s growing tourism market has offered a boost to Yanbu’s hospitality industry, with the recent opening of a Novotel, a Holiday Inn, and the Al-Ahlam Tourism Resort. This in turn has drummed up new business for local cafes and restaurants.

Yanbu's nice weather make the coastal town a favorite escape during the summer months. (Shutterstock)

“Many hotels and restaurants are opening now, and local people are also trying to serve visitors their own local dishes,” said Al-Enezi. “The weather is nice as well. It doesn’t get too hot in the summer, which means during the hot months people can escape to Yanbu.”

Beyond its scenic charm, favorable climate and natural beauty, Yanbu also has a particular appeal for history buffs. The British army intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, lived in Yanbu for a time between 1915 and 1916 in a typical Hijazi building.

The British archaeologist, diplomat and writer became famous for his role in the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

Lawrence was deployed to the region to help the Arabs overthrow their Ottoman rulers, who had sided with Germany against Britain and France.

Lawrence of Arabia, left, and the renovated house in Yanbu where he lived between 1915 and 1916. (Getty Images)

On Dec. 1, 1916, the Ottoman forces of Fakhri Pasha launched a daring offensive against Yanbu with the aim of reestablishing control over the strategically vital port.

After some initial Ottoman successes, the Arabs counterattacked with the support of five British Royal Navy warships anchored off the coast. By Jan. 18, 1917, the Ottomans were in full retreat.

Yanbu served as a supply and operations base for Arab and British forces for the remainder of the war.

Yanbu industrial harbor. (Shutterstock)

In 1975, the Saudi government decided to transform Yanbu into one of the country’s two new industrial centers, the other being Jubail on the Arabian Gulf.

Since then, state and private development projects in Yanbu have boosted its economic value and prestige, attracting huge petrochemical and logistics infrastructure.

Today, as the Kingdom undergoes a fresh transformation, heralded by the Vision 2030 economic and social reform agenda, Yanbu’s fortunes are once again shifting — this time toward tourism, heritage and culture.

In 2020, the Ministry of Tourism launched a project to restore T.E. Lawrence’s Hejazi house, renovating its white stone walls and ornate wooden screens in what would become the first of the ministry’s efforts to revive the old town of Yanbu.

Heritage houses being restored in Yanbu. (Shutterstock)

Soon, other traditional Arabian homes followed, with sensitive restoration work launched to restore their coral-stone walls and wooden latticed windows to their former glory. The rebirth of Yanbu’s authentic architecture has made the city a highly desirable place to visit.

Since then, a host of tour operators have sprung up across Yanbu to cater for this recent influx of visitors.

Al-Enezi, who has run tours in Yanbu since 2008, offers a choice of two main tours — one along the coast that features a visit to Oyster Island, known for its pristine beaches and clear waters, and another into the urban heart of Yanbu that acquaints visitors with local heritage and crafts.

Ghazi Al-Enezi was named the Best Tour Guide in the Kingdom in 2014. (Supplied)

He also takes visitors to Umluj, which is situated 150 km north of Yanbu. Often referred to as the “Maldives of Saudi Arabia,” the coastal town is made up of more than 100 small islands where hotels and other attractions are now under construction.

Also outside the town, thrill-seeking visitors are drawn to Radwa Mount, with its red-hued jagged peaks towering some 2,282 meters above sea level, making it the highest point in the Al-Nakhil range.

Known for its rich biodiversity, including lynx, tigers, ibex and wolves, visitors can enjoy a safari tour along the rugged highland landscape and stop at high-altitude villages to sample the local honey.

Yanbu also boasts of attractive highland landscapes. (Shutterstock)

For Al-Enezi, the tourism industry in Yanbu is unrecognizable today from what passed for it when he began organizing tours there 14 years ago.

“It was hard for the few of us working in the business in the beginning because at that time the Saudi government wasn’t focused on tourism and not many people were coming to visit the Kingdom,” he told Arab News.

“But this is now a growing and changing business.”

Related


Top UK school opens in Riyadh with pledge to ‘motivate, inspire’

Updated 13 May 2022

Top UK school opens in Riyadh with pledge to ‘motivate, inspire’

  • Downe House ‘will prepare Saudi girls for their place on world stage’

RIYADH: Downe House, Riyadh’s first British international school for girls, opened on Thursday with a promise to inspire a generation of young Saudi women to take their place on the national and world stage.

The school, one of the most highly regarded for female students in Britain, said that its Riyadh branch will offer a global curriculum utilizing the latest education advances in the developed world.

Downe House UK Principal Emma McKendrick, who attended the school’s opening ceremony, said: “This is one of the most exciting opportunities to create a rich school to support the development of young women in Saudi Arabia, who, I hope, will go on to play a significant part in society and global society.”

She told Arab News that the school will seek to “foster cognitive and intellectual curiosity, nurture talents and interests outside the classroom, open up to cultures and respect others.”

The opening comes as part of a Royal Commission for Riyadh City program to bring international teaching institutions to the capital. A major project led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to attract global education organizations to the Kingdom, in partnership with the ministries of education and investment.

Downe House School has over a 100 years of experience, and focuses on the academic excellence and well-being of female students, developing their abilities and self-confidence in order to contribute to the development of their local and global community. 

HIGHLIGHT

Graduates of Downe House Riyadh will join an alumni community of more than 3,000 women, including members of British and other royal families, and leading figures in research, writing, arts and business.

Neil Crompton, British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said that the opening of a Downe House School branch in the Kingdom is an affirmation of the strong historic relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia, as well as a model for strengthening both countries’ links in the education sector.

“I think having the school here is terrific news (and shows) that the relationship is flourishing between the two kingdoms and has a lot of commitment by both governments,” Crompton told Arab News.

“Education is very important and, historically, many Saudis come to the UK to study. But I think it’s nice to have the opportunity here, as in the past year four British schools were opened in Riyadh. And Downe House is distinguished for its education as it will be the first independent British girls’ school to open its doors in Saudi Arabia, and we are proud to support this journey,” he said.

Downe House Riyadh offers a modern campus, with facilities including libraries, open halls, technical and scientific laboratories, a music studio, a theater that can accommodate 560 people, a major sports academy, and an indoor swimming pool designed by leading Saudi female architects.

Faisal Al-Muammar, chairman of Downe House Riyadh, expressed his gratitude to the partners in RCRC, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Investment, and the Ministry of Human Resources for their support and vision to attract the British school to Saudi Arabia.

“Downe House Riyadh focuses on motivating and inspiring female students. It will work to develop personal skills, research skills, and knowledge to enhance individual talents and interests and instil a culture of participation and respect for others beyond the limits of academic achievement,” he said.