Saudi Arabia sets conditions to role in Syria reconstruction
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)
2017/10/15 Issue: 127 Page: 9
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.”