Trump stance on Iran and IS cause for optimism, says Saudi Arabia

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir arrives for the opening of the Mideast peace conference in Paris,France, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Samson/POOL

PARIS: Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Monday he was positive about the way the incoming US administration wanted to restore American influence in the world, contain Iran and fight Islamic State.

“We are optimistic about the incoming administration and look forward to working with it in all areas that are a concern for both of us,” Jubeir told reporters in Paris.

“We will look at the Trump administration’s view as articulated. Wanting to restore America’s role in the world, we welcome this. Wanting to defeat IS, absolutely. Wanting to contain Iran absolutely.”

Jubeir said the interests of the world’s largest oil exporter were aligned with those of the United States, be it geopolitically – in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran – or on energy and financial issues.

“The objectives we want to achieve are the same. We may have disagreements on how to get there, but we don’t disagree on what needs to be done, and that will not change,” he said.

When asked specifically about Riyadh’s relationship with its Shia regional rival Iran and whether there could be a detente between them, Jubeir accused Tehran of destabilising the region.

Relations between the two worsened after hundreds of people, many of them Iranians, died in a crush at the 2015 Muslim haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Iran blamed the disaster on organisers’ incompetence and boycotted last year’s haj.

Ties worsened further when Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia executed a Shia cleric a year ago. Angry Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and Riyadh severed diplomatic relations.

“Our relationship with Iran is tense and it’s in function of its aggressive and hostile policies. It would be wonderful to live in peace and harmony with Iran, but it takes two to tango,” Jubeir said, speaking in English. “We can’t be subject to death and destruction and expect to turn the other cheek. We tried, but it didn’t work.”

Jubeir added that proposed talks in the Kazakh capital Astana aimed at reaching a ceasefire in Syria were worth testing. However, it should not be construed as Riyadh abandoning moderate rebels fighting to topple Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad.

“The objective is to arrive at a ceasefire and move on to the political process. Let’s test it. So far it hasn’t succeeded,” he said. “If it does, then we go down the political path, but that doesn’t mean we abandon the moderate opposition.”

The Astana talks, which are backed by Russia and Turkey, are due to take place later this month, with rebel military factions set to hold face-to-face negotiations with a government delegation.

Jubeir, whose country has given military support to the opposition forces, said there had been close consultations with Turkey on the meeting and that it did not believe Ankara had changed its view on Assad leaving power at the end of a transition.

“I don’t see a change in Turkey’s position. The fact the Turks are talking to Russians is not a concern. Turkey has people on the ground in Syria and has direct contact with the Syrian opposition on the ground,” he said.