Saudi Arabia sets conditions to role in Syria reconstruction

Sunday 15/10/2017
Diverging interests. Members of the Russian delegation, led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, meet with members of the Saudi delegation, led by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, at the Kremlin in Moscow, on October 5. (AFP)

Moscow- Russia received a condi­tional pledge of support for Syria’s post-war re­construction efforts from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during his recent visit to the Kremlin, high-level Rus­sian diplomatic sources said.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that Saudi Arabia expressed readiness to play a key role in Syria’s reconstruc­tion efforts but only under the right conditions.

King Salman told Russian Presi­dent Vladimir Putin that Riyadh was not prepared to invest funds neces­sary to serve Iran and its militias, which have a significant presence in the war-torn country.

He said any talk of reconstruction must come after a political solution is reached by the Syrian people without exter­nal interference, the sources added.

King Salman also said Iran must “stop meddling in internal affairs of the countries of the region and halt its activities to destabilise the situa­tion in the region.”

Moscow is relying on the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia due to its political and economic influence, to play a major role in Syria’s recon­struction, the sources said.

Russia pledged to end foreign presence in the Syrian territories once military escalation is checked in various regions and terrorist groups are eliminated, said the sources, who added that any prior solution would only serve the inter­ests of Iran at the expense of other countries in the region.

The Saudi response was: “We will contribute to the reconstruction of Syria when a new government and regime is in place to achieve stabil­ity and create a means of under­standing with all components of Syrian society and restoring Syria to the embrace of the Arabs,” the source added.

Saudi Arabia and Russia plan to work together to unify Syria’s frag­mented opposition leading up to Syria’s political process, Saudi For­eign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said during the trip.

Speaking at a Kremlin news brief­ing, Jubeir said that both Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed on the need to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and state institutions and affirmed the principle of non-inter­ference in other countries’ internal affairs and the principle of territo­rial integrity.

Vladimir Akhmedov, a senior re­searcher at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, said Russia’s focus on the future role of Saudi Arabia in Syria goes beyond finances.

“Moscow is keen on a pivotal role for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf part­ners based on the ability of these countries to give legitimacy to the Syrian solution, as well as Moscow’s desire that the next solution will be a lasting one that creates stability,” Akhmedov said.

King Salman’s trip to Moscow, the first by a Saudi monarch, was con­sidered a major success.

Among the deals announced in Moscow was a memorandum of un­derstanding on the purchase of Rus­sia’s S-400 air defence system.

Saudi Arabia has traditionally looked to the United States and the United Kingdom for its military sup­plies but, with the security situation in the Gulf, Riyadh has increased military spending and sought alter­native suppliers such as Russia and China.

Also signed during the king’s visit was a deal to allow the production of Russian Kalashnikov assault rifles in the kingdom, which could create thousands of jobs in Saudi Arabia.

“The agreements also include ed­ucational and training programmes for Saudi nationals to ensure the sustainability and development of the military industries sector in Saudi Arabia,” a statement by Saudi Arabia Military Industries said.

“These agreements are expected to have tangible economic contribu­tions and create hundreds of direct jobs. It will also transfer cutting-edge technologies that will act as a catalyst for localising 50% of the kingdom’s military spending as tar­geted by Vision 2030.”