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Archive for Middle East

Newsline: US, Saudi top diplomats urge repatriation of detained IS recruits

The United States and Saudi Arabia urged countries to take back citizens captured in the fight against Islamic State, with the kingdom’s top diplomat saying it was “absolutely unacceptable” that wealthy countries skirted that responsibility. “I would say to those countries, you must step up,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a meeting of the U.S.-led coalition in Riyadh. Speaking at the same conference, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said repatriation was key to ensuring the lasting defeat of Islamic State. He said detention centers were holding nearly 10,000 Islamic State fighters, 2,000 of whom are from countries other than Syria and Iraq. “Failure to repatriate foreign terrorist fighters risks the possibility that they could again take up arms and attempt to restore ISIS’s so-called caliphate,” Blinken said. (https://neuters.de/world/middle-east/us-saudi-top-diplomats-urge-repatriation-detained-is-recruits-2023-06-08/) Blinken announced nearly $150 million for Syrians and Iraqis to help improve humanitarian conditions, noting that hardship and disillusionment provided a breeding ground for Islamic State recruits.

Newsline: Israel mulls diplomatic recognition of Morocco’s rule over Western Sahara

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser visited Rabat on Wednesday as his government mulls a possible announcement of recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara, officials said. Morocco considers Western Sahara its own, but the Algeria-backed Polisario front demands an independent state there. In 2020, then-U.S. President Donald Trump recognised Morocco’s rule over the territory in return for its partial upgrade of relations with Israel. A diplomatic source told Reuters such a move by Israel could lead to a full upgrade of bilateral ties, with the countries’ respective missions, currently designated as liaison offices, becoming economic embassies, and a free-trade pact possible down the line. (https://neuters.de/world/israel-considers-recognition-moroccos-rule-over-western-sahara-2023-06-07/) Israel’s foreign ministry declined comment on the issue. But a source in Netanyahu’s cabinet acknowledged it was being discussed within the country’s National Security Council (NSC).

Newsline: US top diplomat had ‘candid’ talks with Saudi crown prince

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an “open, candid” conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the early hours of Wednesday about a wide range of bilateral issues, a U.S. official said. The top U.S. diplomat arrived in Saudi Arabia late on Tuesday for a much anticipated visit amid frayed ties due to deepening disagreements on everything from Iran policy to regional security issues, oil prices and human rights. Blinken and the crown prince, known as MbS, met for an hour and forty minutes, a U.S. official said, covering topics including Israel, the conflict in Yemen, unrest in Sudan as well as human rights. “There was a good degree of convergence on potential initiatives where we share the same interests, while also recognising where we have differences,” the U.S. official said. A good part of the discussion was expected to be dominated by the possible normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, even though officials had played down the likelihood of any immediate or major progress on the issue. “They discussed the potential for normalization of relations with Israel and agreed to continued dialogue on the issue,” the U.S. official said, without providing further details. (https://neuters.de/world/saudi-crown-prince-blinken-had-candid-talks-jeddah-us-official-2023-06-07/) Washington has struggled to steady the relationship with Riyadh, where the de facto ruler Prince Mohammed has dominated the decision-making, and as the traditional oil-for-security alliance crumbled under the emergence of the United States as a major oil producer. Blinken’s visit came days after top crude exporter Saudi Arabia pledged to deepen oil output cuts on top of a broader OPEC+ deal to limit supply, as it seeks to boost flagging oil prices despite opposition from the U.S. administration.

Newsline: Iran’s embassy reopens in Saudi Arabia

Iran officially reopened its embassy in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said, following a deal to re-establish ties and ease a long rivalry that fuelled conflicts across the Middle East. A ceremony was held inside the embassy’s compound with dozens of diplomats and officials attending the reopening of the diplomatic mission for the first time in seven years. “We consider today an important day in the relations between Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs Alireza Bikdeli said. “The region will move Inshallah (God willing) towards greater cooperation and convergence to achieve stability, prosperity and progress,” Bikdeli said in a speech during the ceremony. (https://neuters.de/world/middle-east/irans-embassy-reopens-saudi-capital-riyadh-al-arabiya-tv-2023-06-06/) In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed, in a deal brokered by China, to end a diplomatic rift and re-establish relations following years of hostility that had endangered regional stability including in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. The deal also highlighted China’s growing influence in the Middle East.

Newsline: Syrian top diplomat visits key ally Iraq

Syria’s foreign minister discussed humanitarian aid and combating the illegal drugs trade with key ally Iraq during a visit to Baghdad as Damascus emerges from years of diplomatic isolation. During the visit, Mekdad met with Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani and conveyed “an invitation to visit Damascus” on an unspecified date, a statement from the Iraqi premier’s office said. Baghdad was “one of the initiators” of Syria’s return to the Arab League, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said in a joint press conference with Mekdad. The two also discussed the issue of Syrian refugees who fled the country after war erupted, many of whom now live in Iraq as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. (https://news.yahoo.com/syrian-top-diplomat-discusses-aid-113003712.html) The visit by Faisal Mekdad comes weeks after the Arab League agreed to end Syria’s suspension from the 22-member bloc, bringing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime back into the regional fold after years of civil war. Iraq remained an ally of Damascus throughout the wider Arab boycott, never severing relations and maintaining close cooperation during Syria’s civil war, particularly over the fight against the Islamic State group.

Newsline: US top diplomat to visit Saudi Arabia next week

U.S. top diplomat Antony Blinken will visit Saudi Arabia next week for talks on security and economic issues, the State Department said on Friday. Secretary of State Blinken’s trip, which follows a visit last month by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, comes after disputes including over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents and the decision last year by the OPEC+ group to cut oil production amid high energy prices driven by the war in Ukraine. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Blinken will focus on moving forward the U.S. relationship with Riyadh. “We’re focused on the future,” Kirby told reporters on Friday. “It’s an important strategic partnership.” “That doesn’t mean we always agree with the Saudis on everything, or that they agree with us on everything. We’ve certainly had differences of opinion,” Kirby added. (https://news.yahoo.com/us-secretary-state-blinken-visit-161503006.html) Blinken’s trip from Tuesday to Thursday will include a June 7 U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council ministerial meeting on Middle East security and integration, according to a State Department statement. Blinken is also scheduled to co-host a June 8 meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan on combating the Islamic State militant group, the statement said.

Newsline: Saudi Arabia tells diplomatic staff in Lebanon to stay home after man kidnapped

Saudi Arabia asked its diplomatic staff in Lebanon to stay home after a Saudi national was abducted in Beirut on Sunday, Saudi media reported on Monday. The man, who works for Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia), was kidnapped in the commercial district of the Lebanese capital, Saudi state-run Al Ekhbariya television said. Lebanese security forces are following the case and have informed the Saudi ambassador in Beirut, Lebanon’s Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said on Twitter. “So far, the reason for the kidnapping or disappearance has not been revealed,” a Lebanese security source told Reuters, adding that reports about a ransom are being investigated. (https://neuters.de/world/middle-east/riyadh-asks-diplomatic-staff-beirut-stay-home-after-man-kidnapped-2023-05-29/) Al Ekhbariya said kidnappers asked for a $400,000 ransom. Saudi and Lebanese ties have suffered in recent years because of the dominance of the Iran-backed Hezbollah over the Lebanese establishment.

Newsline: Saudi diplomats arrive in Syria for embassy reopening

A Saudi Arabian team arrived in Damascus to discuss mechanisms for reopening the embassy in Syria, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry announced on Twitter. The Saudi technical team concerned with reopening the Saudi embassy in Syria has arrived in the capital, Damascus, in implementation of the Kingdom’s decision to resume work in its diplomatic mission in Baghdad. The Saudi Press Agency, “SPA”, stated that the Saudi technical team met with the Assistant Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs. (https://en.mehrnews.com/news/201261/Saudi-team-arrives-in-Syria-for-embassy-reopening) During the meeting, the head of the Saudi team expressed his thanks to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for the warm welcome the team received and facilitating access procedures, while Dr. Soussan expressed their welcome, readiness and readiness to provide all facilities and support to facilitate the mission of the Saudi team, according to “SPA”. Saudi Arabia recently announced the resumption of the work of its diplomatic mission in Syria, taking into account the decision issued by the meeting of foreign ministers of Arab countries to return Syria to its seat in the League of Arab States.

Newsline: Iraq condemns attack on its embassy in Switzerland

Iraq has condemned an attack on its embassy in Switzerland. A Foreign Ministry statement said the embassy building in the capital Bern came under “an unprecedented” attack by unknown individuals “who forcibly entered the building, causing fear and panic” among staff and citizens. The statement, however, did not specify the date of the attack. There were no reports of injuries. “We renew our condemnation of this act and all forms of violence and vandalism targeting diplomatic missions, particularly those violating their security and sanctity,” it added. (https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/iraq-condemns-attack-on-its-embassy-in-switzerland/2907142) The ministry called on the Swiss authorities to take all necessary measures to identify the perpetrators and clarify the circumstances of the attack. There was no comment from the Swiss authorities on the incident.

Newsline: Iranian diplomat, Belgian aid worker freed after prisoner swap deal

A Belgian aid worker who was imprisoned in Iran for more than a year has been freed after the Gulf state of Oman said it had facilitated a prisoner swap deal. The aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, is set to arrive in Belgium later Friday, Belgium’s foreign ministry said. Meanwhile, an Iranian diplomat, Assadolah Assadi, was released from Belgium and is on his way back to Iran, the country’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said. Oman said it had brokered the deal: “The Omani efforts have resulted in an agreement between the two sides for a mutual exchange deal,” Oman’s foreign ministry said in a statement. According to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Vandecasteele is “currently on his way to Belgium.” He was taken to Oman on Thursday evening, where he was received by Belgian soldiers and diplomats, De Croo said, and underwent medical tests on Friday morning. Vandecasteele was sentenced by an Iranian court in January to 40 years in prison, 74 lashes and a $1 million fine, Iranian state-aligned and judiciary news agency Mizan said. The 41-year-old aid worker was sentenced for charges of espionage for a foreign intelligence service and money laundering. “After 455 days of unjust imprisonment, Olivier Vandecasteele has finally regained his freedom. He is scheduled to arrive in Belgium tonight, following 15 months of intense and discreet diplomacy,” the Belgian foreign ministry statement said. Assadi, who was based in Vienna, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgian court in 2021 over a foiled terrorist plot outside Paris in 2018. Assadi was detained in 2018 while passing through Germany, according to Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA. He was standing trial along with a Belgian-Iranian couple and an Iranian national who are accused of planning a terrorist attack after 500 grams of explosive material, called TATP, and a detonator were discovered in their car in June 2018. “Mr. Assadolah Assadi, the innocent diplomat of our country, who was illegally detained against international law in Germany and Belgium for more than two years, is now on his way back to his homeland and will soon enter our beloved Iran,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said. (https://lite.cnn.com/2023/05/26/world/belgium-iran-prisoner-swap-intl/index.html) The released individuals have been transported from Tehran and Brussels to Muscat, Oman’s capital, in preparation for their return to their home countries, Oman’s foreign ministry said in a statement.