RIYADH / BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister on Saturday said he was confident that Democrat Joe Biden’s new US administration would pursue policies that promote regional stability and that any discussion with it would lead to strong cooperation.
Riyadh is preparing to welcome a new US president who pledged, during an election campaign, to reassess its ties with Saudi Arabia, a state he called a “pariah” in 2019.
“I am confident that a Biden administration would continue to pursue policies that are in the interest of regional stability,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told Reuters in a virtual interview on the sidelines of the G20 leaders’ summit, that his country welcomes.
“All the discussions we will have with the future administration will lead to solid cooperation.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had close personal ties to President Donald Trump and their relationship provided a buffer against international criticism of Riyadh’s rights record following the murder of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi, the role of Riyadh in the war in Yemen and the detention of the rights of women activists.
These areas can now become points of friction between Biden and Saudi Arabia, a major oil exporter and buyer of US arms.
Prince Faisal highlighted the 75-year history of “strong defense cooperation” between the two countries and said he expected it to continue.
He said it would be “very appropriate” for the United States to designate the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen as a foreign terrorist organization.
“We all know a lot of their weapons and a big part of their ideology comes from Iran. It is therefore certainly a terrorist organization supported by foreigners ”, he declared.
Washington sees the group as an extension of Iranian influence in the region. The Trump administration threatened to blacklist the group, sources told Reuters, as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. Iran denies that it is providing financial and military support to the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia has been pushing for the campaign against rival Iran, and the question is how Biden will approach Tehran’s ballistic missiles and support for regional proxies in any negotiations to revive an international nuclear pact with the Iran that Trump abandoned in 2018.
Prince Faisal also said the kingdom has “good friendly relations” with Turkey, which has been at odds with the kingdom for some years on foreign policy and attitudes towards Islamist political groups. The murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has greatly exacerbated the tensions.
For more than a year, some Saudi and Turkish traders have speculated that Saudi Arabia is enforcing an informal boycott of imports from Turkey.
The minister said he had not seen any figures that would support the existence of a boycott.
Commenting on the rift between the Gulf countries and Qatar, Prince Faisal said Riyadh was looking for a way to end a dispute with Qatar. The dispute dates back to 2017 when the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a boycott on Qatar, severing diplomatic and transport ties and accusing it of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies the allegations of support for terrorism.
In the run-up to the G20, major human rights groups and the families of jailed activists called on G20 capitals to boycott the Riyadh rights record summit.
Asked whether Saudi Arabia was considering leniency for detained women’s rights activists, a prospect initially raised by the Saudi ambassador to the UK and then returned on foot, Prince Faisal said leniency was a “no-problem”, given that the women were still on trial.
The detainees are accused of harming Saudi interests. Few of the charges have been made public, but some relate to contacts with foreign journalists, diplomats and rights groups.
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