Biden’s team realized Saudi relationship was too big to fail, Politico columnist tells Arab News 

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Updated 24 June 2022

Biden’s team realized Saudi relationship was too big to fail, Politico columnist tells Arab News 

  • US needs Kingdom on several fronts, President never intended to treat Riyadh as pariah, says Elise Labott
  • Biden will meet Saudi king and crown prince for talks on addressing joint issues: Saudi embassy spokesman

CHICAGO: US President Joe Biden publicly denounced Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” while privately sending back-channel emissaries to try to restore the relationship between the two allies, an influential analyst has told Arab News.

Elise Labott, the former global affairs correspondent with the broadcaster CNN who is now a columnist with Politico magazine, had access to highly placed US and Saudi sources — both on and off the record — for an article published recently in the magazine.

Speaking on “The Ray Hanania Show,” which is produced by Arab News and broadcast weekly on the US Arab Radio network, she said: “Let’s be honest, I don’t think that President Biden ever really intended to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah when he came to office and make that his policy, but the politics kind of got in the way and they were trying to move forward on the policy, but in secret because of the politics. After a while, the Saudis did want to repair the relationship. So, they did a lot of what the US asked them to do.

“But finally, they were just like, all right, in or out? There have been a series of visits over the course of the last year or so. National security adviser Jake Sullivan went out there. CIA director Bill Burns went out there.”

Labott said there was a recognition in the White House that “there are problems in the relationship … on the wider human rights front, but then whether it's security, or economically or in the region, the Saudis are a valuable partner and the US does need to reset the relationship.”

Other issues encouraged a recalibration, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine and soaring fuel prices in the US, Labott said.

“I think that when President Biden was on the campaign trail as a candidate he promised, of course, to treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah state, make them pay the price, and for a while they were pretty standoffish, but I think as time wore on, and certainly the war in Ukraine was really a catalyst for this, the US saw that the relationship with Saudi Arabia was too big to fail. And so, you had rising gas prices. You had the war inUkraine. You had a whole host of things where the US would look to that solid partner over the years, Saudi Arabia — this is a 75-year-old relationship.

“And because the Saudis, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular, were being kind of ostracized, finally they had had enough. Even though President Biden was saying this in public, in private he was sending emissaries to Saudi Arabia to say look, we want to reset the relationship. We want to move forward.

“And kind of in secret almost, there was this back-channel diplomacy going on for the last year or so in which the two sides were trying to make progress on a whole host of issues.”

Labott said Saudi influence on the global price of oil amid US domestic anger over the cost of fuel at the pumps was a driver of White House thinking — but far from the only one. “Well, a lot of people are reducing it to the oil and the Saudis are the biggest swing producer,” she said.

“The US is looking to them to stabilize markets, everyone is going to fill their car with gas at the pump, its over $5 and some places it’s $7, so the initial thought is can we get the Saudis to increase oil production so that will ease the pain?

“I think that the Saudis ultimately are playing hard to get, with the US having agreed to some oil production, I don’t think that’s going to make much of a difference for the US economy in the long run, that’s what experts say.

“I think if it is anything from stabilizing some of the economies in the region like Lebanon, for instance, or playing a mediator in Iraq or reaching out to Iran. Normalization with Israel. And then there is, you know, Saudi Arabia is on the Red Sea and there is a whole keeping trade lanes open in the Red Sea and mediating with Africa.

“If you look across the globe, most major foreign policy issues particularly in that part of the world, Saudi Arabia is the ‘gorilla in the room,’ and you can’t really get anything done if you don’t have them on the inside.”

Washington had functional relationships with many states without agreeing with them on every issue, Labott said, and it was important for the US to realize that it could not bend a country to its will. “Whether it’s in the UAE or Saudi or Bahrain or these Gulf states, they’re monarchies they’re not democracies, but if you ask the people by and large there’s not a lot of dissent … if you ask the Saudis whether they approve of Mohammed bin Salman, if you held an election, I think he’d win hands down. I think it’s recognizing these leaders as imperfect as they are and trying to find a way to move forward instead of trying to bend them to our will.”

As for what the US expected of Saudi Arabia, Labott said: “I think it’s just showing that leadership in the region that the US is looking for and that could be anything from standing on the right side of democracy against the war in Ukraine.

“We have one goal right now and that’s to beat Putin, and we need the Saudis to help us do that, so that means not doing anything with the oil market that will embolden President Putin … maybe not supporting sanctions in the way the US wants them to, but don’t do anything that will help President Putin, and I think if the Saudis want to be that leader, that’s what the US is looking for them to do.”
The radio show also featured an interview with Fahad Nazer, spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, who said that contrary to the views of some pundits there was a genuine appreciation in Washington of the important role played by Saudi Arabia and the significance of the relationship with the US. Biden’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia next month as part of his first Middle East trip was evidence of that, Nazer said.

“This dialogue goes a long way but I think there is an appreciation in Washington, as far as I can tell among congressional leaders and in the administration, that Saudi Arabia plays a very important role globally … in stabilizing international energy markets,” he said.
“We play an important role in helping bring stability and helping resolve some of the political crises in the region including the Yemen war … and we have played the leading role over the years in pushing back onmilitant non-state actors like Daesh, Al-Qaeda, the Houthis, Hezbollah and others. So, I think there is an appreciation for that very constructive role that the Kingdom plays.”

Nazer confirmed that Biden would hold separate meetings during his visit with King Salman and the crown prince, with a wide range of issues on the agenda. “The two leaders will discuss bilateral cooperation and joint efforts to address regional and global challenges including some of the newer challenges that the international community faces including cyber security, climate change, and environmental initiatives,” he said.

“At the same time the Kingdom is hosting a summit that will include the leaders of the GCC countries as well as the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and obviously President Biden will be attending that as well.”

Arab countries remained critically important role players in these discussions with “our most important strategic ally in the world,” Nazer said.

The Ray Hanania Show is broadcast live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. Eastern EST on WNZK AM 690 radio in Greater Detroit including parts of Ohio, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington DC including parts of Virginia and Maryland. The show is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 7 a.m. in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Chicago at 12 noon on WNWI AM 1080.

You can listen to the radio show podcast here: www.arabnews.com/RayRadioShow

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Hajj ministry announces alternative flights, facilities to accommodate pilgrims from UK, Europe, US

Updated 01 July 2022

Hajj ministry announces alternative flights, facilities to accommodate pilgrims from UK, Europe, US

  • Move comes after people faced technical issues while applying for Hajj via the electronic portal
  • Additional seats were added on flights after people reported limited capacities on flights

RIYADH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday that it will secure alternative flights and provide additional seats for pilgrims coming from Britain, the US, and Europe. 

In cooperation with relevant authorities, visas will also be “issued immediately to the pilgrims entering the Kingdom as part of the efforts”. 

This comes after people faced technical issues while applying for hajj via a new electronic portal called Motawif and had several issues including no access to the limited seats on flights. 

The statement was also confirmed by a ministry spokesperson who spoke exclusively to Katie Jensen, presenter of Frankly Speaking — the weekly political talkshow produced by Arab News.

The technical issues experienced by some pilgrims with the new Motawif online portal are “solvable and being dealt with”, according to the official spokesperson and deputy minister of Hajj & Umrah Services Hesham A. Saeed.

“I am assuring you now that everybody chooses a program, including the air ticket, now it is solvable, they have the air ticket and everything is done now,” he said. 

“(The pilgrims) still have time, the Hajj season still has not started, we still have ten more days to start the Hajj season and all their difficulties, we are solving it now and it is already solved by Motawif company and everything now, Inshallah, is going very fine and smooth,” added Saeed during the interview which will air in full on Sunday July 3 via www.arabnews.com/FranklySpeaking


Grand Mosque ready to receive worshipers on first Friday of Dhu Al-Hijjah – presidency

Updated 01 July 2022

Grand Mosque ready to receive worshipers on first Friday of Dhu Al-Hijjah – presidency

  • Cleaning and sterilization operations have been intensified
  • 600 employees have been enlisted at the mosque to receive visitors

RIYADH: The Grand Mosque in Makkah is fully prepared to receive pilgrims and worshipers on Friday, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has said.

This Friday will one of the busiest during the year as many pilgrims have already arrived in Makkah ahead of Hajj which will start on the 8th of Dhu Al-Hijjah (July 7).

The presidency has enlisted 400 employees to receive worshipers and pilgrims, direct them to the mataf and various other prayer spaces, and regulate entry and exit to and from the Grand Mosque.

Cleaning and sterilization operations have also been intensified and there has been an increase in Zamzam water being distributed to visitors.

Around 4,000 employees clean the Grand Mosque ten times a day using 13,000 liters of disinfectants.

There are 25,000 Zamzam containers dotted around the mosque, 20 smart carts holding 80 litres of water are in operation, and 516 drinking fountains are available.

600 employees have been enlisted at the doors of the mosque to receive visitors and direct them to the correct areas, organize entry and exit, and support security personnel in diverting and directing worshipers when prayer areas get filled up.

100 employees are on hand to help pilgrims perform tawaf and other rituals in accordance with the correct manner, the presidency added.


US officials led by antisemitism envoy briefed on Saudi efforts to promote tolerance

Updated 01 July 2022

US officials led by antisemitism envoy briefed on Saudi efforts to promote tolerance

  • They were visiting the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, the leader of which stressed the importance of communication and dialogue in building bridges between cultures

RIYADH: A visiting US delegation led by Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, Washington’s special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, was briefed this week on the work of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue.

After being welcomed to the center by its secretary-general, Abdullah Al-Fawzan, and other senior representatives, the delegates were given a brief presentation about its activities designed to promote and encourage greater tolerance among peoples.

They were also briefed on the results of the first study of its kind in the region on tolerance, carried out by the center to the highest scientific standards, which found that Saudi society is tolerant of other cultures and civilizations.

In greeting the visitors on Tuesday, Al-Fawzan stressed the importance of encouraging communication and dialogue between peoples, to help build bridges of understanding among cultures, as part of the efforts being made by the Kingdom, through its Saudi Vision 2030 development plan, to support tolerance and promote peaceful coexistence based on the principles of moderate Islam.

He said that Saudi society accepts and coexists with people from other societies and cultures, as evidenced by the large number of expatriates who live and work in the Kingdom. This shows that the values of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and unity are not new concepts in the country, he added.

Since its inception, the center has placed great importance in promoting the values of citizenship among among all sections of society, making it a mainstay of its work, Al-Fawzan said.

The members of the US delegation were also given a tour of the center’s Interactive Dialogue Exhibition so that they could learn more about the Kingdom’s efforts to support communications between cultures and civilizations. They also heard about local projects developed by the center to help strengthen the nation’s social fabric, and its regional and global initiatives designed to help build and enhance cultural diversity and human commonalities.

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Program launched to measure pilgrims’ satisfaction during Hajj

Updated 30 June 2022

Program launched to measure pilgrims’ satisfaction during Hajj

  • Guests will be assigned incognito to help evaluate Hajj services according to a pre-studied scientific methodology

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched a performance initiative aimed at measuring pilgrims’ satisfaction at service provision during this year’s Hajj season.

Assistant deputy minister of Hajj and Umrah, Hesham Saeed, signed a joint cooperation agreement with acting secretary-general of the coordination council, Dr. Abdullah Al-Muwaihi, in relation to the program.

Al-Muwaihi said the monitoring scheme would involve measuring quality-of-service performance and beneficiary satisfaction, while also including an incognito guest program, all designed to improve and enrich worshippers’ spiritual experience.

Under the incognito initiative, Saeed said a designated guest would, “serve as a pilgrim under mission, who lives the full experience of Hajj, starting from the country of the pilgrim, passing through the holy sites, and performing the rituals until they return to their country.

“The assigned incognito guest will be living all the details, seeing what contact points they pass through, and will give an evaluation according to a pre-studied scientific methodology regarding the measurement criteria,” he added.

 

 

 

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Top Mawhiba students prepare to represent Saudi Arabia at five international scientific olympiads

Updated 30 June 2022

Top Mawhiba students prepare to represent Saudi Arabia at five international scientific olympiads

  • Members of physics, chemistry and biology teams are in Hungary for a two-week training program; the math and informatics teams already completed their preparations in the Kingdom
  • The events, some of which are virtual and some in-person, will take place in July and August in Norway, Indonesia, China, Switzerland and Armenia

JEDDAH: Top students from the King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, also known as Mawhiba, are preparing to participate in five international scientific olympiads that will be held virtually and in person during July and August.

Two teams of students have already completed their training programs in the Kingdom at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology. They will compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad in Oslo, Norway, from July 6 to 16, and the International Olympiad in Informatics in Indonesia from Aug. 7 to 15. The informatics event involves programming and algorithmic problem-solving challenges.

Meanwhile, 38 male and female members of three other teams arrived in Budapest, Hungary, on Monday to begin intensive two-week training programs at some of the country’s most prestigious universities.

They include 14 students hoping to earn a place on the team that will compete at the International Chemistry Olympiad, which will be hosted by China; 12 students nominated for the team at the International Physics Olympiad 2022, hosted by Switzerland; and 12 trying to claim a place on the team at International Biology Olympiad 2022 in Armenia. The first two events will be virtual and the third in-person, and all three take place between July 10 and 18.

The physics team’s training event is being held at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, the biology team’s at the Hungarian Society of Biology, and the chemistry team’s at Eotvos Lorand University. They team members will complete an average of about eight hours a day of lectures and tutoring in their specialist subjects, delivered by experienced, qualified international trainers. The lessons will include practical and theoretical elements, along with training on how to find solutions to advanced scientific problems.

According to Mawhiba, at the end of the training camp the best performers on each team will be selected to represent Saudi Arabia at their respective olympiads.

Amal Al-Hazzaa, the acting secretary general of Mawhiba, told Arab News that the talented students had already completed more than 10,000 hours of training before participating in the preparatory camps.

She added that they have all attained high levels of proficiency and experience to reach the point where they can represent the Kingdom at an international competition.

In the past 10 years, Al-Hazzaa revealed, students from Saudi Arabia have won more than 500 medals and other awards at the olympiads.

“We are hopeful that these students will achieve further successes in the coming five olympiads,” she added.