President Buhari Wishes Saudi Ruler, King Salman Speedy Recovery

This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia's 84-year-old ruler King Salman has been admitted to hospital in the capital Riyadh for gall bladder inflammation, the royal court said. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP
This file handout photo taken on March 5, 2020, provided by the Saudi Royal Palace, shows King Salman bin Abdulaziz during a meeting in the capital Riyadh. Bandar AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has wished Saudi Arabia’s ruler, King Salman Bin Abdulazizaz a speedy recovery.

The 84-year-old ruler was admitted to hospital in Riyadh on Monday for gall bladder inflammation, according to the royal court.

In a series of tweets, President Buhari’s media aide, Garba Shehu, on behalf of the Nigerian leader, described the Saudi King as a true friend of the country, praying for his quick recovery.

“President Muhammadu Buhari Monday sent a passionate get well message to Saudi Ruler and Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, who has been hospitalized,” the tweet read.

“King Salman is a true friend of Nigeria who has never failed to identify with us at all times through important collaborations and cooperation.

“As the King receives medical attention, I send my best wishes and prayers for his speedy recovery.’’

 

Rare Development

It is rare for Saudi Arabia to report on the health of the ageing monarch, who has ruled the top oil exporter and the Arab world’s biggest economy since 2015.

The king was “admitted today to King Faisal specialist hospital in Riyadh for some medical tests due to cholecystitis,” inflammation of the gall bladder, the royal court said in a statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The announcement made around 4:30 am (0130 GMT) did not disclose any further details.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi’s scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia, which was due to start on Monday, has been postponed after the king’s hospitalisation, according to the Saudi foreign minister.

“In recognition of the extremely important visit and a desire to make it a success, our wise leadership in coordination with our brothers in Iraq have decided to postpone the visit” until the king leaves hospital, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan wrote on Twitter.

Hours before Kadhemi was to set off on his first trip abroad as premier, his office said they heard King Salman was suffering from “a sudden health issue”.

“It was decided to postpone the visit to the earliest possible date agreed upon by the two sides,” his office said in a statement.

Qatar Emir To Skip Riyadh Summit Dampening Hopes

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz        Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani / AFP

 

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, will not attend the Gulf summit in Riyadh, state media reported Tuesday, dampening hopes of a reconciliation between Doha and a Saudi-led bloc.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations it backs radical Islamists and seeks closer ties with Saudi arch rival Tehran.

Qatar vehemently denies the allegations.

The emir named Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani to lead the Qatari delegation to Tuesday’s summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the official QNA said.

Hopes of reconciliation were high after signs of a thaw between Qatar and its former allies.

Following Saudi King Salman’s invitation to the emir, Qatar’s foreign minister said there had been “some progress” in talks with Riyadh.

Some observers had said that the summit could pave the way for a “reconciliation conference”.

Others remained sceptical, saying he was only following protocol and had invited the Qatari leader to last year’s summit as well.

Qatar’s prime minister attended a series of talks in Saudi Arabia in May, one of the first high-level contacts of the two-year boycott.

Even before the Saudi-led blockade, relations had been rocky, in part because of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera’s critical coverage of the region’s affairs and Doha’s support for the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

The rift has seen the two sides trade barbs on everything from access to the Muslim holy city of Mecca to alleged Twitter hacking.

AFP

Saudi Replaces Foreign Minister Less Than A Year After Appointment

 

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed a new foreign minister on Wednesday, according to a royal decree issued less than a year after his predecessor took office.

Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, who has been serving as ambassador to Germany, will replace Ibrahim al-Assaf, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) cited the decree as saying.

Assaf will be demoted to minister of state, the SPA reported, having replaced Adel al-Jubeir in December 2018, two months after the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Assaf had been detained in 2017 in an anti-corruption sweep.

Saudi officials say he was released after being cleared of any wrongdoing, and he subsequently led a government delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year.

Saud will take office as the kingdom continues to deal with the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing, widely seen as the kingdom’s worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11 attacks, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.

The 45-year-old new foreign minister served as a key advisor at the Saudi embassy in Washington during the time of Khashoggi’s murder in October.

Farhan has “strong ties with ‘the West'”, tweeted Cinzia Bianco, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“He is dynamic and proactive. The ministry will likely be different than what we saw with Adel al-Jubeir and Ibrahim al-Assaf.”

She told AFP on Wednesday that Farhan “has really strong ties with traditional Saudi allies, US and even a more European outlook than would be traditionally the case”.

Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told AFP it was still not immediately clear why the replacements took place.

“Al-Jubeir, the foreign minister previously, is still rather present in the foreign policy scene,” she said.

“In fact, he has remained more prominent in the media than Assaf.”

Regional Tensions

Saudi King Salman also replaced the transport minister, Nabil al-Amoudi, with Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser on Wednesday.

This comes after 35 foreigners were killed when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the Islamic holy city of Medina last week.

Transporting worshippers around the holy sites, particularly during the hajj, is a huge challenge for Saudi Arabia.

During the pilgrimage, the roads can be chaotic with thousands of buses creating interminable traffic jams.

The kingdom has also been navigating a spike in tensions with its regional arch-rival Iran, with attacks on Saudi oil facilities last month that temporarily halved the kingdom’s crude output and sent prices soaring.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility, but US officials blamed Tehran, charging that the rebels did not have the range or sophistication to target the facilities.

Tehran has denied involvement and warned of “total war” in the event of any attack on its territory.

Earlier this month, an Iranian tanker was hit in suspected missile strikes off the coast of Saudi Arabia, sparking new fears of war.

Saudi King Salman’s Brother Dies At 96

File photo: King Salman of Saudi Arabia

 

Saudi Arabia was gearing up Monday for the funeral of King Salman’s elder brother, the royal court said, after he died at the age of 96.

“His Royal Highness Prince Bandar bin Abdulaziz al-Saud passed away,” the royal court said Sunday in a brief statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

“A funeral prayer will be performed for his soul… on Monday… at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.”

The prince was the eldest surviving son of Saudi Arabia’s founding monarch, King Abdulaziz.

The royal court did not elaborate on the cause of his death, but some local media said he had been ill for several years.

He was not said to be a politically active member of the royal Al-Saud family which counts thousands of members, only a handful of whom wield direct influence over the kingdom.

His sons, however, hold key government positions. Prince Faisal bin Bandar is the governor of Riyadh while Prince Abdullah bin Bandar is the head of the Saudi National Guard.

His death comes as King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who sidelined his cousin as heir to the throne — consolidates his grip on power.

Saudi Arabia Calls For Urgent Arab Talks Over Iran Tensions

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: STR / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia has called for emergency regional talks to discuss mounting Gulf tensions, saying Sunday that it does not want war with Iran but is ready to defend itself.

King Salman invited Gulf leaders and Arab League member states to two emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss recent “aggressions and their consequences”, the kingdom’s official SPA news agency reported Saturday.

The announcement came days after mysterious sabotage attacks against several tankers in highly sensitive Gulf waters and drone attacks on a crude pipeline by Iran-aligned Yemen rebels, which Riyadh claimed were carried out on Iranian orders.

The United States has also deployed an aircraft carrier and bombers to the Gulf over alleged threats from Iran.

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Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, said Sunday his country does not want to go to war with Iran but would defend itself.

Saudi Arabia “does not want a war, is not looking for it and will do everything to prevent it,” he said.

“But at the same time, if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with strength and determination to defend itself and its interests.”

The kingdom’s regional allies welcomed the Saudi invitation.

The UAE’s foreign ministry said the current “critical circumstances” require a unified Arab and Gulf stance.

The meetings will be a “significant opportunity for the countries of the region to achieve their aspirations for establishing peace and stability,” it said.

 Sabotage probe ongoing

Four ships including two Saudi oil tankers were damaged in mysterious sabotage attacks last Sunday off the UAE’s Fujairah, near the Strait of Hormuz — a vital maritime route for oil exports which Iran has threatened to close in the event of a war.

That incident was followed by drone strikes Tuesday by Yemen’s Iran-aligned rebels on a major Saudi oil pipeline built as an alternative export route if the Strait of Hormuz were to be closed.

Jubeir said the UAE was leading the probe into the damaged oil tankers but added that “we have some indications and we will make the announcements once the investigations are completed”.

The Emirates has said three Western countries — the US, France and Norway — would also be part of the investigation, along with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Neither of the two Gulf states, both close allies of the United States, have given details on the exact nature of the ship attacks.

Despite international scepticism, the US government has cited increasing threats from Iran, a long-time enemy of both the US and its regional allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

SPA said Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about enhancing security in the region.

The US has already strengthened its military presence in the region, deploying several of strategic B-52 bombers in response to alleged Iranian threats.

US President Donald Trump last week predicted that Iran would “soon” want to negotiate.

AFP

Saudi King Names New Foreign Minister In Govt Reshuffle

File photo: King Salman of Saudi Arabia

 

King Salman of Saudi Arabia appointed a new foreign minister in a government reshuffle Thursday, a royal decree said.

Ibrahim al-Assaf will replace Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign ministry said citing the decree.

Jubeir will be demoted to minister of state for foreign affairs, it added.

AFP

 

Saudi King Launches Building Of Entertainment Mega-Park

FILE PHOTO Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia, on April 15, 2018. PHOTO: STR / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has launched construction of an “entertainment city” near Riyadh, part of a series of multi-billion dollar projects aimed at helping the oil-dependent kingdom diversify its economy.

The project is part of a sweeping reform and investment programme dubbed “Vision 2030”, the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who also attended the launch ceremony at the site on Saturday evening.

Authorities have touted the 334-square kilometer (130 square miles) project in Qiddiya, southwest of the capital, as the kingdom’s answer to Disneyland.

Its first phase, which includes high-end theme parks, motorsport facilities, and a safari area, is expected to be completed in 2022, officials say.

They hope the park will draw in foreign investment and attract 17 million visitors by 2030.

The kingdom this month hosted its first public film screening in over 35 years, having lifted a decades-long ban on cinemas last year.

In February, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority said it would stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double last year’s figure, and pump $64 billion (53 billion euros) into the sector in the coming decade.

Saudis currently splurge billions of dollars annually to see films and visit amusement parks in neighbouring tourist hubs like Dubai and Bahrain.

The kingdom has also sought to court investors with three hi-tech “giga projects”, funded in part by its sovereign wealth fund.

Aside from Qiddiya, the kingdom has unveiled blueprints for NEOM — billed as a regional Silicon Valley to be built from scratch — and a reef-fringed resort destination on the Red Sea.

Skeptics have questioned the viability of the projects, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, in an era of cheap oil.

AFP

Saudi Arabia To Launch ‘Entertainment City’

FILE COPY Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz.                                         Photo Credit: PHOTO: STR / AFP

 

Saudi King Salman will launch the construction of an “entertainment city” near Riyadh Wednesday, authorities said, part of a series of multi-billion dollar projects as the kingdom seeks to diversify its oil-reliant economy.

The 334-square kilometer project in Qiddiya, southwest of Riyadh, would rival Walt Disney and include high-end theme parks, motorsport facilities, and a safari park, officials say.

The facility highlights a “relentless effort to develop giga-projects that will help achieve many direct and indirect economic returns”, project official Fahd bin Abdullah Tounsi was quoted as saying in a government statement on Monday.

Qiddiya chief executive Michael Reininger said he expects the project will draw foreign investors in entertainment and other sectors but did not specify the total cost of construction.

Such projects are the brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a self-styled liberal change agent who is the chief architect of the sweeping “Vision 2030” reform programme.

Saudi Arabia has dazzled investors with several plans for hi-tech “Giga projects”, funded in part by its sovereign wealth fund, but some skeptics question their viability in an era of cheap oil.

The kingdom has unveiled blueprints to build NEOM, a mega project billed as a regional Silicon Valley, in addition to the Red Sea project, a reef-fringed resort destination — both worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Analysts say the projects could create funding pressures at a time when the government faces a yawning budget deficit and growth in the kingdom’s non-oil economy is only slowly gathering pace.

The reform stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom has been reeling from an oil slump since 2014.

Saudis currently splurge billions of dollars annually to see films and visit amusement parks in neighbouring tourist hubs like Dubai and Bahrain.

In February, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) announced it will stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.

AFP

Saudi King Rejects US Plan To Transfer Embassy To Jerusalem

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia, on April 15, 2018. PHOTO: STR / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday opened an Arab League summit by criticising US President Donald Trump’s decision to transfer the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“We reiterate our rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem,” the king said in a speech in Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia.

“East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories,” he added.

 

AFP

Saudi King Reaffirms Support For Palestinians After Israel Comments

File photo: King Salman of Saudi Arabia

 

Saudi King Salman reaffirmed support for Palestinians to US President Donald Trump, state media said Tuesday, after his son and heir apparent said Israel has a “right” to a homeland.

The king “reaffirmed the kingdom’s steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.

The king also emphasised the need to advance the Middle East peace process in a phone call with Trump, which came after Israeli forces killed 17 Palestinians last week during a demonstration on its border with Gaza.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations, but behind the scenes their ties appear to have improved in recent years against what they see as a common Iranian threat.

Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has long proved an obstacle to a full rapprochement, however, as Riyadh still supports the Palestinian claim to sovereignty.

But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman indicated a notable shift in the kingdom’s position in an interview published Monday with US news magazine The Atlantic.

The prince was asked by the magazine whether the “Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland?”

“I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation,” said the prince, who is on a three-week US tour.

“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land,” he added.

“But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”

Since 2002, Saudi Arabia has been the main sponsor of the Arab Peace Initiative, which envisions a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No senior Saudi official is known to have previously accepted that Israel has a right to any land beyond the practical need to secure a lasting deal.

AFP

U.S., Saudi Sign Deals Worth $110bn As Trump Visits

The United States on Saturday announced military deals worth nearly $110 billion, during a visit by President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia.

A White House official said Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would attend the signing of a memorandum of intent on a package of defence equipment and services to bolster the security of the kingdom and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats.

National oil firm Saudi Aramco said it signed $50 billion of agreements with U.S. firms. Energy minister Khalid al-Falih said deals involving all companies totalled over $200 billion, many of them designed to produce things in Saudi Arabia that had previously been imported.

Business leaders on both sides were keen to demonstrate their talks had been a success, so there was an element of showmanship in the huge numbers. Some deals had been announced previously; others were memorandums of understanding that would require further negotiations to materialise.

The deals illustrated Saudi Arabia’s hunger for foreign capital and technology as it tries to reduce its dependence on oil exports. Low oil prices in the past couple of years have slowed the economy to a crawl and saddled the government with a huge budget deficit.

Saudi King Presents Trump With Top Civilian Honour

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has presented United States President Donald Trump with the kingdom’s top civilian honour as Trump began a trip to Riyadh aimed at strengthening security and economic ties.

King Salman decorated Trump with the gold King Abdulaziz medal on Saturday during a meeting at the royal court in the Saudi capital.

The two countries are expected to hold talks on regional security and defence.
Trump, on the first foreign visit of his presidency, has been plagued by controversy at home, largely connected to his dismissal of FBI director James Comey.

With delicate diplomatic meetings facing him, including three summits, Trump faces the challenge of advancing his “America First” agenda without alienating key allies.