Jeffrey to Asharq Al-Awsat: Russia Is Aware What Kind of Ally It Has in Syria

Jeffrey to Asharq Al-Awsat: Russia Is Aware What Kind of Ally It Has in Syria

Jeffrey to Asharq Al-Awsat: Russia Is Aware What Kind of Ally It Has in Syria

Jeffrey to Asharq Al-Awsat: Russia Is Aware What Kind of Ally It Has in Syria

US Ambassador James Jeffrey, the State Department’s special representative for the Syrian war and the fight against ISIS, said the US supports "in every possible way", diplomatically and logistically, Israeli raids on Iranian sites in Syria.

In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Jeffrey said that "Iran has very established footholds in the Syrian state and within Syrian society, "noting that many Arab countries" will never be in harmony with a man like (President Bashar) Assad. They can claim that they can distance him from the Iranian orbit, but I see that this is absolutely not possible."

The American envoy emphasized that his country will continue to impose sanctions on Damascus, and "we support the entry into force of sanctions on the Syrian regime until its acceptance of a political solution," explaining: "Economic sanctions make the situation worse for the circle of people very close to the head of the regime, and this is what we are always trying to reach."

And we want to make it clear to these figures that there is no clear future for them if they continue to support Assad. They should rather press for political transition. ” He pointed out that the recent Russian media campaign against Damascus is evidence that Moscow is also aware of “what kind of ally” they have in Syria today. He said that Idlib is "the citadel of opposition” and will not return to Damascus soon.

Here is the text of the exclusive interview that Asharq Al-Awsat did by Phone Thursday:

· Let’s start with Covid-19. Could you give me your assessment? Also, yesterday in the Security Council the Russians once again rejected reopening Yarobiyeh, the crossing between Iraq and Syria. What is your assessment on that as well?

First of all, we’re following the situation of the coronavirus throughout Syria. We have to look at it in three different areas; the northeast where we have the best eyes on, the northwest where we rely on Turkish information, and of course the regime areas which are totally under-reported and under-represented. We have only notional information from the regime areas. We think that there’s a considerable amount of cases there, but we can’t measure it. We do not see at the moment a significant outbreak of the virus in the northwest, but of course with so many people jammed together and with such bad medical support, particularly as the Russians and Syrians have bombed most of the hospitals and other medical facilities there, that would be of great concern.

In the northeast, there have been one or two reports of infections but we are yet to see a significant outbreak.

To some degree the few reported cases are due to the limit on travel in and out of the country, other than for the Iranians who we think spread it initially in regime areas. So the effects of it have been limited but that can change at any time. The UN is worried about this, the WHO is worried about this, and we are as well.

The Russians and the regime by blocking the transfer of medical supplies to those areas where Assad does not hold sway of course have made the situation worse. It’s Assad’s fault. It’s his fault in his own areas for having devastated his own country and not caring about its people. He is even more at fault in those areas not under his control that he denies assistance to, even though that is his responsibility as the sovereign entity in Syria.

*Do you think being in this pandemic paves the way for renewal or updating of the UN Security Council resolution regarding the humanitarian border crossing? Because I think we’re supposed to be in June/July, and directions in December?

In July, UNSC 2504 has to be renewed. It is our hope that Russia will renew at a minimum the two crossings in the northwest. We are very, very insistent on that, and we would also like to see a new crossing to service the northeast. As you know the crossing there, the Rabia crossing, was blocked from being included in the new resolution by the Russians and Chinese so that is where we are.

· As you may know in the last few weeks, even months, since the beginning of the pandemic the Russians and the regime twisted the whole argument. They’re saying now that they’re blaming the US and the European sanctions. What is your reaction to that?

The collapse of the Lebanon monetary and financial system has nothing to do with our sanctions, and that is perhaps the biggest impact on Assad. Frankly his own bad management is the second reason he is in such dire economic shape, and then thirdly, it’s the fact that this country is still at war and important areas, including agriculture and energy-producing areas, are not under his control, nor should they be until he accepts a compromise political settlement. That is why he is faced with great economic difficulties that are impacting all of the people. Our sanctions do not include sanctions on humanitarian or medical goods, those items can flow freely. And the sanctions are carefully selected and packaged to target regime figures and not the average person.

· In May/June I think the Europeans, the EU are supposed to renew their sanctions, so what is your view on that?

We are very much in favor of these sanctions staying in place until the Regime accepts a political solution. We see the glimmer of hope in the longer-term ceasefire in Idlib and the regime’s acquiescence in a common agenda for the constitutional committee in Geneva. These things would not have happened without the tough position of the international community, be it the Turks in Idlib or all of our efforts maintaining our sanctions. So we are really happy that the EU is maintaining them.

· What would you tell some Syrians who buy the narrative of the regime and blame the US for their suffering?

I cannot help anyone if after almost a decade of Assad’s terror, they still believe Assad over the international community.

· In this regard, we saw some new developments by some Arab countries who reconnected with Damascus and they took the pandemic as a pretext. Did you speak with those Arab countries? And if you did, what did you tell them?

That’s kind of vague without identifying which Arab countries. The Arab countries I am thinking of, and I do not want to disclose them publicly but we know who they are, we are talking to them constantly.

We think two things. First of all they will have no impact. They will not win any prizes from Assad. We saw when one of them, and this one I can name because it has been discussed in the media, the UAE extended diplomatic recognition and they got nothing from Assad. I think they barely got a thank you. We know as well that they’re not going to change his policies nor are they going to undercut our policy.

We think that some people in the region have the mistaken idea, even though I am in media all the time, and Secretary Pompeo and President Trump speak out frequently on Syria, that maybe there is another American policy that allows us to be friends with Assad. There is no such American policy. There will never be such an American policy. There wasn’t even such a policy under the Obama administration.

· In this regard what do you expect from the Arab Summit that is due in June but might be delayed a little bit. The Algerians are now working hard to bring the Syrians back to the Arab League.

Our question to the Arab League is: What has changed from when you took the decision (to freeze Syria membership in 2012)? Have fewer people died now had died then? We think the number now is almost 500,000 Arab citizens of Syria. That is not a very encouraging thing to invite them back. Has the Regime complied with any of the UN calls for reconciliation? No.

What percent of the population has been ridden from their homes or fled their homes due to the regime in 2012 when the Arab League took the decision? Perhaps 5-10 percent of the population. What percentage of that population today? 50 percent.

The Arab League has to ask itself: Does it just have as an interlocutor states or does it also have as an interlocutor people of those states? Because the people of this state, Syria, have shown repeatedly their courage and their commitment by half the population fleeing Assad’s rule.

· Some Arab countries believe that by bringing the regime back to the League, maybe they would distance it away from Iran. What do you think?

It’s a crazy idea. First of all, Iran is deeply embedded in the Syrian state and society. It’s not as bad as Hezbullah in Lebanon or with the Militias in Iraq, and I know both situations, particularly Iraq, very well. But it is very concerning, not just to us, we know it is also concerning to the regime and the Russians. You have militias that are created and paid for by the Iranian government and reports to the Iranian government.

But the other thing is, and people really need to think about this, Syria is a state where Assad’s brutality to his own people is unique in the world, even faced with Venezuela or North Korea. Assad only knows one tool, butchering his population, particularly the Sunni Arab population.

Now, does anybody think he’s going to change his ways? It is one thing to think he is going to change his alliance with Iran, I don’t think he can but at least theoretically it is possible. But does anyone think he is going to change the way he rules and the population is going to accept this mass murderer, this uber torturer as leader? No. He has to run an absolutely horrific brutal totalitarian state.

What country is willing to accept a partnership with a brute like that? We only know of two, Russia and Iran. We do not think the decent countries of the Gulf and the Arab World would be in the same bed with someone like him. They can claim they can wean him away from Iran, I doubt that very much. Will these countries provide the ground forces, the Hizbullah troops, and the Shia from Afghanistan and other countries to keep the Sunni Arab and many other ethnic groups in the opposition from attacking Assad? No, they won't go that far and I don’t think they will sign up to support a government as terrible as Assad’s. They won’t bear the responsibility. That is something Iran and Russia will have to do.

· Recently, there were a lot of Israeli airstrikes around Damascus, Damascus - Beirut highway, and in Palmyra. What is your view on this?

The US supports Israel’s efforts to secure its self-defense. Israel is facing an existential threat from Iran, as they have said a thousand times that their mission is to destroy Israel. The Iranians are in Syria in large numbers, passing on long-range weapon systems to Hezbullah that threaten Israel. We know probably two elements associated with the Iranians, also in Syria, and Israel has the right to take whatever action it needs, being careful about Syrian casualties which the Israelis are, for the goal of saving Israel. Therefore, we are supportive of them in any way we can.

· What kind of support? Political or Logistical? Through the Tanf military base?

We give the support that is needed for effective Israeli actions to protect itself, and in protecting itself it is protecting all neighbors of Assad: Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Lebanon.

· The Israeli Minister of Defense said recently that this is to finish, not limit, the Iranian influence on Syria. Do you think that is possible?

Our policy is that all Iranian-commanded forces have to leave Syria, along with frankly all other military forces that entered after 2011. This includes the United States, if all of the reports are correct about the Israeli Air Force that would include the Israelis, and it would include the Turks.

· And the Russians?

The Russians entered before 2011, therefore they are exempt. Everyone else came after the war had begun. If there is a political solution to the war, and neighbors such as Israel and Turkey no longer feel threatened by the situation in Syria, we think they would be willing to let the country return to normal. As far as we are concerned, returning to normal is our goal and that means, among others, all Iranian-commanded forces have to leave.

· You said earlier that the sanctions are working, and that there are indications proving that. What are they?

Given the incompetence of the Assad administration, who is good at sucking the blood, literally and figuratively, in terms of money, goods, and property from its own people and in running a corrupt financial and economic system, but are not good at holding the country together and attracting foreign investments, they have done much of the damage themselves. Who would invest in a country Assad runs? They have also destroyed much of their own infrastructure, driven away a large percentage of the country’s doctors, and on and on.

It’s hard to say if you look at the unlimited fall of the Syrian pound (now 1300 to the US dollar) and the claims by people who are trying to support the regime that they have lost $244 billion, four times the GDP of the country, in the last few years because of the war, it is very hard to say what is due to the Regime’s own actions and what part of it is due to the sanctions. I would say that in general, in terms of the economy, it is mainly what the Regime has done to itself. Sanctions make life hard for those people in the inner circle, and that is what we are trying to get at. To make it clear to them that they don’t have an economic future by supporting Assad. They need to push for a political transition in Syria.

· You say the sanctions will push the regime to change its behavior?

We think it is a combination of everything. The 50 percent of the population that’s fled, stripping the country of most of its demographic resources, or much of it. The major swaths of territory that are not under Assad’s hand and unlikely to come into his hands because significant outside powers, including the US, who are on the ground. The pummeling (attacks) that the Iranians and the Syrians are getting from the air (Israeli Strikes) with ever more aggressive and effective airstrikes. The lack of reconstruction assistance. The ostracism of the Regime by the Arab League and by the Europeans.

We think that at the end of the day this formula will push the regime to eventually seek a negotiated settlement rather than claim a military victory and no compromise, which is what they have been doing up until now.

· You just said that keeping regime out of Idlib is a strategic thing. Right?

Yes. That is correct

· And you said that you want Turkey to fight extremists in Idlib?

Yes, we do. And we see signs that they are, more effectively.

How can you combine those two goals, keep Idlib out of the regime’s control and fight terrorism? And what do you think of the Turkish Russian deal over Idlib?

I think the deal will maintain as long as Turkey continues pressure on HTS. We do not see HTS as a serious threat to Russian forces, as they claim. It is a threat to all of us because it is a terrorist organization, and it is a threat to the more moderate and armed opposition in Idlib, which is of concern to us.

We see no reason, no excuse, no justification for this offensive (regime in Idlib) to start up again. By the same token, we are happy that the Turks are dealing independently with HTS. They committed to that in September 2018 and in the most recent agreement and that is a good thing.

· And you think that deal is holding?

I think that it will hold for the next few months, at least.

· Let move to North East of Syria which is where the American forces are. Recently we have noticed the Russians sending more military enforcement and they took a Qamshli military base and are getting closer and closer to the Americans. What is your assessment of the situation?

The Russians have some lightly armed military police units, they travel around in three, four, five vehicles, and sometimes they’re here, sometimes they’re there, but there is no Russian significant military force on the ground. There is no Russian occupation. Frankly, the Syrian government, other than in a few bases in Qamishli and the city of Deir El Zoor, has no real presence either. There are a few outposts and a few patrols. The people with the large, tens of thousands forces on the ground is the SDF, our partner against ISIS.

· In December, President Trump spoke of withdrawing from the North East of Syria and the Americans are there now. How long will they remain?

We will remain there until we have completed our military mission of the enduring the defeat of ISIS.

· Can we say it is an open-ended presence there?

I would never say the word open-ended. I would say only what I have just said.

· What would you tell your allies, the SDF, in advance before pulling out?

Pulling out of northeast Syria is not on the agenda, as we have not seen yet the enduring defeat of ISIS.

· Back to the current relationship between Washington and Moscow. There were some talks between some American officials and Russian officials in Washington, Moscow, and Vienna. Where are we in that regard? Is the step-by-step approach still valid?

As you know, we have various levels of talks with the Russians. We maintain generally our radio silence on these talks. One exception was when Mike Pompeo traveled to Sochi to meet with FM Lavrov and President Putin to talk about Syria and to talk about our efforts to get a compromised solution. We laid the whole thing out to both Putin and Lavrov and we did a joint press conference with Lavrov. It’s all on the record.

What do you make of the Russian media criticism of Assad?

We think that Russia knows very well what’s going on in the country. We think Russia knows what sort of ally they have in the Syrian President. And we think those articles speak for themselves.

· Do you think the Russians are upset with Damascus?

I think the articles speak for themselves. You are a journalist and when you write your articles, you want us to read what you write. Right? Then, believe what is printed in the papers.

· Did the Russians convey the same thing with you?

We do not share the details of diplomatic exchanges with our valued Russian interlocutors.

· We Know the OPCW report blamed Damascus for Ltamneh (Hamah) chemical attack in 2017 and we know that Damascus dined that. What is the next step?

The OPCW is reporting its findings to the UN Security Council, which were dramatic, and talk not just about Regime forces using chemical weapons but that the decisions were taken at the highest levels of the government to do so.

Meanwhile, the Security Council is also dealing with the UN Board of inquiry that found the regime, and to some degree the Russians, culpable for exploiting the UN’s passing of coordinates of humanitarian installations that should be on a no strike list, but in fact were deliberately struck.

We see the UN, from OCHA Chief Mark Lowcock to Secretary-General Guterres himself, speaking out in very clear and tough terms of the humanitarian risks of closing these border crossings from Iraq and eventually Turkey and the failure of the regime to allow crossline transfers of humanitarian goods to those areas. We see German courts pursuing Assad’s torturers who had gone after Syrian citizens. These citizens and their torturers now find themselves in Germany with cases open against them.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of all of the accountability efforts that we, the UN, the international community, and the media are doing to expose, that’s the word I would use, expose the absolute moral bankruptcy of that regime and those who are associated with it.

· What about the UN peace process? We hear UN special Envoy Mr. Gier Pederson saying that he made a deal between regime and opposition about agenda of the constitutional committee?

Pederson has this account and we support him 150 percent, including his call for a nationwide ceasefire. We support his efforts to build on the agreement on the agenda. That is a small, but important step forward.

· Do you think that it is realistic to talk about presidential elections under UN auspices in 2021?

We think the elections are the right way to go. If Assad holds his elections, this year or next year, they will have none, zero international credibility. They will be dismissed by the international community. The international community will redouble its efforts to pursue real elections monitored by the UN. That is the way forward. That is what the US supports.

The policy that we are pursuing is not going to change. We look very much forward to working with the media and the voices and people of the entire Middle East in speaking as one to call for a political solution and an end to the fighting.

· It this realistic?

Some people think it is not realistic. I don’t know but two years ago people thought that it was unrealistic to think that the last citadel of the armed opposition in Idlib would hold out for very long. Two years later there it is. Some people thought it was impossible for the Syrian Opposition and representatives of the Syrian government could meet together in Geneva, they have done so. Trust us that we are not only pursuing this policy, we think it has had some limited success and we think it has the potential to have a great deal more success.

Lebanon Caretaker PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: Berri’s Dialogue Call is in Everyone’s Interest

Mikati attends the UN General Assembly sessions in New York. (The Lebanese government’s X page)
Mikati attends the UN General Assembly sessions in New York. (The Lebanese government’s X page)

Lebanon Caretaker PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: Berri’s Dialogue Call is in Everyone’s Interest

Mikati attends the UN General Assembly sessions in New York. (The Lebanese government’s X page)
Mikati attends the UN General Assembly sessions in New York. (The Lebanese government’s X page)

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, has blamed the Christian political parties for the delay in implementing the reforms required by the international community and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He stressed that his government has completed draft reform laws and referred them to Parliament for endorsement, but the Christian factions refuse to convene, in light of the failure to elect a new president for the country.

Mikati acknowledged that electing a president constitutes “the beginning of the solution to the crises.” He said that Speaker Nabih Berri’s call on the various political blocs to hold a national dialogue was in everyone’s interest.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of the meetings of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the caretaker Prime Minister said that Lebanon was a founding member of the UN and remained present and active, even if Lebanon’s crises are no longer a priority in light of other international events.

Mikati said he was confident that the main problem today in Lebanon was the election of a president. In this context, he expressed his belief that the “path drawn by Speaker Nabih Berri in his recent speech, which is based on a seven-day dialogue followed by continuous sessions to elect a president, is the best solution.”

“When the presidency remains vacant for a year, and all means have been exhausted to elect a president, the solution proposed by Berri becomes logical,” he stated.

In response to the opposition’s claim that Iran’s influence was preventing the election of a president, Mikati did not deny that Tehran-backed Hezbollah had a role in Lebanon, but asked: “Did the Lebanese meet and make a decision and the party oppose it?”

He pointed to the meetings of the Quintet committee on Lebanon, which includes representatives from the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt, saying: “I hope that in their next session, they will call on [the Lebanese blocs] to respond to the dialogue initiative in order to end the presidential vacuum.”

Mikati said that the election of the president “will not completely solve Lebanon’s crisis, but will be the door or a window to form a new government and carry out the required reforms.”

He pointed to the decision of the Christian parties, led by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces (LF), to boycott Parliament’s legislative sessions in light of the presidential vacuum, stressing that electing a president was their priority.

The premier emphasized that his government could not be blamed for the delay of reforms, saying that it had sent draft laws to Parliament for approval.

“How can the crisis be resolved in light of this [parliamentary] boycott?,” he asked.

On Hezbollah, he said the party was “cooperative and positive in terms of supporting most of the required reforms, but the Christian team does not see the need to address any urgent files before electing a president.”

Mikati criticized those who say that Saudi Arabia does not consider Lebanon as a priority. He said: “For me, Saudi Arabia remains, in all cases, the mother, father, and brother for Lebanon.”

“When you want to anticipate the future, you have to look to the past. [Saudi Arabia] has always supported the country. I am certain that the Kingdom will not abandon Lebanon,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Tokyo to Enhance Security Coordination, Strengthen Strategic Saudi-Japanese Dialogue

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (Reuters)
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (Reuters)

Tokyo to Enhance Security Coordination, Strengthen Strategic Saudi-Japanese Dialogue

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (Reuters)
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (Reuters)

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who is currently visiting the region, emphasized the strategic nature of the relationship between Riyadh and Tokyo, citing significant potential to deepen bilateral ties.

Hayashi disclosed that his discussions with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, aim to enhance the longstanding friendly relations between Japan and the Kingdom, explore new areas of cooperation, and increase coordination regarding regional and global security challenges within the framework of bilateral strategic dialogue.

The meeting between the Japanese top diplomat and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states’ foreign ministers presents a significant opportunity for the exchange of strategic perspectives on regional and global affairs.

According to Hayashi, the meeting sheds light on the expanding economic relations between Japan and the region, where trade volumes exceeded $100 billion in 2022.

“I am confident that this meeting will be an important opportunity to exchange strategic perspectives on regional and global affairs, as well as to highlight the growing economic relations between Japan and the GCC countries, with trade volumes exceeding $100 billion last year,” Hayashi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Moreover, the Japanese foreign minister said he looks forward to exchanging viewpoints on matters of mutual interest.

Hayashi pointed out that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and GCC Secretary-General Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi reached an agreement in July to resume negotiations on a free trade agreement.

The foreign minister anticipates that the agreement will serve as a legal framework for enhancing trade and investment between Japan and the GCC countries, with hopes of concluding the negotiations within a short timeframe.

“It is worth noting that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi, the GCC Secretary-General, agreed during their meeting in July to resume negotiations on a free trade agreement between Japan and the GCC countries in 2024, with preliminary discussions set to begin,” highlighted Hayashi.

“It is expected that this agreement will serve as a legal framework to enhance trade and investment between Japan and the GCC countries,” he added.

In his capacity as Japanese Foreign Minister, Hayashi hoped that he could work together with GCC top diplomats to conclude negotiations in a brief amount of time.

“I will closely follow the outcomes of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to the Middle East in July last year, during which he held a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, where they agreed to establish a strategic dialogue between the two foreign ministers to enhance political and economic cooperation and coordinate efforts on the international stage,” said Hayashi.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia is a vital partner for Japan in the energy sector and that bilateral cooperation has rapidly expanded beyond this sector, encompassing new areas such as finance, tourism, human resource development, sports, culture, and entertainment.

“One of the most important areas of new bilateral cooperation is promoting the shift towards a green economy and carbon emissions reduction,” revealed the top diplomat in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat.

“This is under a new initiative aimed at transforming the Middle East into a global hub for clean energy and vital minerals,” he added.

“Through the Saudi-Japanese ‘Manar’ initiative launched during Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's visit, Japan seeks to develop joint projects related to the safe use of hydrogen and ammonia technologies and efficient energy transportation and distribution,” explained Hayashi.

When asked to assess Japan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, Hayashi said: “Japan attaches great importance to its strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, considering the leading role that the Kingdom plays in the Arab and Islamic world.”

“Based on the friendly relationship that has evolved over many years between the two countries, the partnership has expanded significantly, particularly in recent years within the framework of the Saudi-Japan Vision 2030,” he added.

“Through discussions I have had with Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Kingdom’s Foreign Minister, in several meetings or via telephone conversations, I can confirm that Japan and Saudi Arabia have substantial potential to deepen and broaden their bilateral relations,” affirmed Hayashi.

Regarding the nature of Saudi-Japanese ties, Hayashi said: “First and foremost, Saudi Arabia has been and continues to be a significant partner for Japan in the energy sector, especially given its longstanding role in ensuring energy security by providing stable oil supplies to Japan over many years.”

“However, this is not the sole aspect of the partnership between the two nations,” he added.

“At present, the Kingdom is actively pursuing industrial diversification and carbon emissions reduction under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who serves as both the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister, within the framework of Saudi Vision 2030,” elaborated Hayashi.

It is worth noting that Japan has fully supported social and economic reforms adopted by Saudi Arabia since 2017.

“I am pleased to note that cooperation between the two countries has rapidly expanded beyond the energy sector in recent years, encompassing new areas such as finance, tourism, human resource development, sports, culture, and entertainment,” said Hayashi.

Japan is actively supporting the vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and both Tokyo and Riyadh share a common perspective on the rule of law, stressed Hayashi, adding that he looks forward to working more closely with Saudi Arabia on the international stage to achieve this goal.

“Undoubtedly, the cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Japan contributes to the preservation of peace and stability in the region and the world,” noted Hayashi.

“Despite the improved relations among Middle Eastern nations and enhanced cooperation among them, the open and rules-based international system remains threatened worldwide.”

“To safeguard and empower this international system, and to achieve peace, stability, and prosperity both regionally and globally, Japan vigorously supports the vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

“Given that Saudi Arabia and Japan share a common perspective on the importance of the rule of law, I look forward to working more closely with the Kingdom on the international stage to achieve this objective,” said Hayashi.

As for developments on the international level, Hayashi underlined Saudi Arabia’s efforts to address the Ukrainian crisis through a recent Jeddah meeting, which involved advisors from more than 42 countries worldwide, providing an important opportunity to discuss how to achieve a just and lasting peace in Ukraine.

“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine not only poses a threat to the security of the European continent but also represents a shameful act that violates the principles of the United Nations Charter, including sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Hayashi.

“It has had a negative impact on the international community as a whole, including in weaker countries, due to the rising prices of food, fertilizers, and energy resulting from this aggression,” he added.

“I take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the leadership of Saudi Arabia and its efforts in holding the Jeddah meeting on Ukraine, which included more than 40 countries, including nations from the Global South such as India, Brazil, and South Africa, as well as China, participating for the first time.”

As per Hayashi, the meeting provided a significant opportunity to discuss how to stop Russian aggression as soon as possible and achieve a just and lasting peace in Ukraine.

“Adherence to international law and the preservation of the international system based on the rule of law are the responsibility of all nations and serve the interests of everyone,” stressed Hayashi.

Following the fruitful outcomes of the Jeddah meeting, Japan continues to support the free and open international system based on the rule of law in cooperation with its partners in the international community, including Saudi Arabia.

Raytheon: Saudi Prowess in Supplying Defense Industries Globally

Tom Laliberty, President of Land Warfare and Air Defense at Raytheon (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Tom Laliberty, President of Land Warfare and Air Defense at Raytheon (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Raytheon: Saudi Prowess in Supplying Defense Industries Globally

Tom Laliberty, President of Land Warfare and Air Defense at Raytheon (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Tom Laliberty, President of Land Warfare and Air Defense at Raytheon (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Tom Laliberty, President of Land Warfare and Air Defense at Raytheon, unveiled that the company was collaborating with the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces to explore the potential of introducing new capabilities within the Kingdom, as part of its plans to act as a reliable partner for the Air Defense Forces, as well as its continuous initiatives to modernize and sustain the Patriot air and missile defense system.

These capabilities could include the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) and the Fixed Site-Low, Slow, Small Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Defeat System (FS-LIDS).

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Laliberty said that Raytheon was looking forward to integrating these capabilities with the existing Patriot systems.

He pointed to long-range concepts available in the Patriot system, medium-range systems with the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), in addition to short-range systems for countering unmanned aircraft such as the Fixed Site-Low, Slow, Small Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Defeat System (LIDS).

“We seek to provide integration through all of these,” he underlined, adding that his company was working with the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces on these types of concepts.

- A trusted partner

As part of its plans in Saudi Arabia, Raytheon’s priorities revolve around continuing to serve as a reliable partner for the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces, and to modernize and maintain the Patriot air and missile defense system, Laliberty remarked.

He stressed his company’s ongoing participation in Saudi Arabia’s plans to localize the military industries sector, referring to the announcement of the manufacture of major parts of the enhanced guidance missiles for the advanced Patriot system, during the works of the World Defense Show in Riyadh last year.

- Localization of the military industry

Regarding the factors that help Saudi Arabia to localize the industry, Laliberty emphasized the importance of Vision 2030, which he said opened the way for a long-term plan that focuses on a wide range of industrial sectors.

“The Kingdom put in place an infrastructure to achieve this vision. For example, the General Authority for Military Industries is one of the agencies that we work closely with to provide opportunities for localization,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Laliberty noted that Raytheon places great importance on resources, as well as companies that possess technical capabilities within their existing operations or wish to invest in capital and knowledge transfer to develop competences in the country.

“There is no doubt that leadership, commitment and desire will ultimately lead to the success of this work,” he stated.

- The Jeddah Factory and the Patriot System

According to Laliberty, the dedicated factory in Jeddah for the local production of Prime Power Units (PPUs) used to power Raytheon’s AN/TPY-2 missile defense radar, which was inaugurated in cooperation with the Zahid Industries, would be a global supplier for Raytheon, not only for Saudi Arabia, stressing that the country has extensive capabilities to become part of the supply chain for defense industries.

“Our experience so far with Zahid Industries in the manufacture of main power units is very positive, as they will work on manufacturing a product that will not only be used in Saudi Arabia, but in our global supply chain,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

- Threats to the region

In light of the regional threats observed over the past years, , Raytheon’s senior executive pointed to the “opponent’s use of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, as well as a large number of drones or unmanned systems”, adding that Saudi Arabia possesses the THAAD system, which provides the outer layer of defense for long-range ballistic missiles, in addition to the Patriot missile system, which is a combination of air and missile defense capabilities to counter tactical ballistic missiles, all types of hostile aircraft, cruise missiles, and large drones.

He added that Raytheon has the advanced national surface-to-air missile system (NASAMS), which is characterized by its ability to confront cruise missiles, aircraft and large drones, in addition to the Fixed Site-Low, Slow, Small Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Defeat System (LIDS).

“The ability of commanders on the battlefield to detect threats as quickly as possible gives them the greatest amount of time to identify the threats and the means to counter them,” the president of Land Warfare and Air Defense at Raytheon told Asharq Al-Awsat.

- Artificial Intelligence

Asked about artificial intelligence, Laliberty replied that it was an industry that had been around for decades. He explained that some Raytheon products have AI algorithms, and are often designed for a specific purpose.

“I think this is where the future lies, where you use AI as a true decision-making assistant to better help commanders organize battles,” he remarked.

- Riyadh’s World Defense Show

Laliberty confirmed that Raytheon would participate in the World Defense Show next year, through the new brand RTX, which was recently announced through its three subsidiaries, Raytheon, Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney.

“We are looking forward to participating in the exhibition, as we had a wide turnout last year,” he stated.

Regarding coordination between the GCC countries in defense systems, Laliberty said that it was great to see the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council having a dialogue about the systems and capabilities that they need.

He added, however, that it was in the Gulf Sates’ interests not to focus on interoperability, the concept of exchanging systems when needed, which can only happen if countries had the same systems.

He concluded by saying: “There is no doubt that we see strong cooperation between the Gulf countries today, and I believe that there is an urgent need for that.”

Lebanese Internal Security Chief Warns of Political Impact on Stability

Maj. Gen. Imad Othman honors officers retiring (ISF Website)
Maj. Gen. Imad Othman honors officers retiring (ISF Website)

Lebanese Internal Security Chief Warns of Political Impact on Stability

Maj. Gen. Imad Othman honors officers retiring (ISF Website)
Maj. Gen. Imad Othman honors officers retiring (ISF Website)

In less than nine months, if the current political deadlock in Lebanon persists, the management of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), a pivotal sector in the country's security, will transition to interim management. This pattern follows that of many other affected official institutions due to the presidential vacancy.

Fundamental Christian factions have declined to make appointments in the absence of a president.

Nine months from now, give or take a week, the General Director of Lebanon’s ISF, Maj. Gen. Imad Othman, will reach the retirement age.

The notion of a vacuum doesn't exist in the realm of security; instead, there are makeshift measures that institutions resort to in order to fill the void.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that things will return to complete normalcy after this date, despite Othman’s attempt to instill a sense of reassurance.

“The institution is capable of continuing its duties; it is brimming with competencies,” Othman assured Asharq Al-Awsat.

Othman believes that Lebanon’s security forces are capable of persisting due to the mentality guiding its members and the discipline on which they are raised.

“There is a strong sense of responsibility, and that alone justifies the continued operation of the security forces despite all the challenges that Lebanon has faced since 2019, referring to the financial crisis that has hit the country and pushed the national currency’s exchange rate to unprecedented levels, consequently affecting the purchasing power of military salaries in general,” explained Othman.

The most compelling motivation for their continuity, however, lies in “the security forces’ understanding that there are those who desire to take their place and those who seek chaos instead of stability.”

“Our lives are built on caution against the unknown,” added Othman.

Moreover, the security forces had established a centralized administration for security decisions.

They formed mobile units to counter rioting, military forces for security intervention, and an information division for combined technical and military intervention.

Meanwhile, the small precincts dispersed throughout the country serve as vigilant eyes and ears, receiving complaints and preparing to address them.

Othman also expressed significant concern regarding the situation of the security forces due to “clear targeting.”

He doesn’t provide extensive details, but he said: “I sense a threat to the institution.”

“There are those who target it because it upholds security in the country.”

“I don't want to go into specifics, but there is a direct and unjustifiable targeting of the security forces.”

“However, this is an institution that has been around for over 160 years, and ending its role is not an easy task,” affirmed Othman.

Othman asserted that the security situation is under control.

He goes even further, affirming that the security situation is “stable.”

“We are pursuing crime and are capable of managing it,” he said.

“However, there are other diverse issues, such as security hotspots emerging in certain areas, taking on a military character, like the Palestinian camps where sporadic fighting occurs,” noted Othman.

Additionally, Othman points to another significant security concern, which is the Syrian displacement, with apprehensions that “security concerns might escalate due to it.”

“There are many crimes linked to the Syrian presence. This places pressure on the security forces and the prison infrastructure in Lebanon, as the number of Syrian prisoners is now approaching a third of the total prison population,” he explained.

“About 17.8% of convicts are Syrian and 43% of detainees are Syrian,” revealed Othman.

In short, Othman affirmed that crime control is very effective, but the danger lies in the political impact on security.

It’s usually difficult for a security figure to openly discuss politics, but the impression left by visitors to Othman suggests a profound dissatisfaction with the “casualness” with which some politicians approach security matters and their lack of concern for avoiding “red lines” as long as it benefits them.

Al-Sheikh to Asharq Al-Awsat: We are Working Gradually to Eliminate Destructive Ideas

Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Al-Sheikh to Asharq Al-Awsat: We are Working Gradually to Eliminate Destructive Ideas

Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Dawah, and Guidance Dr. Abdullatif Al-Sheikh said that the ministry was gradually applying a strategy to save the country from destructive ideas that nurture divisions in the homeland.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Sheikh noted that the ministry has been monitoring mosques and has exempted a small number of preachers from their duty, due to their deviant ideology.

A number of preachers have used social media platforms to spread extremist ideas that contradict the values of moderation, the minister said, adding: “We do not care about those... They talk about ignorance and hatred and few people listen to them...”

Al-Sheikh stressed that Saudi Arabia has long suffered from extremist ideas, which resulted in the killing of innocent people in mosques and others.

“These actions used to take place in the name of religion, preaching and guidance. [Preachers] used these means to reach their goals, either to destroy the country or to steal donations and zakat... This was in the past, but now the citizens have become aware and conscious... The state is strong and the regulations are applied,” he remarked.

There are about 90,000 mosques in Saudi Arabia, and this number is increasing day by day.

With this expansion, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs assumed an important role, Al-Sheikh said, beginning with examining the situation in mosques and studying the conditions of all preachers without exception.

He added that more than 95 percent of preachers maintained their duties, while the rest of them were exempted due to their deviant ideology and teachings.

“All mosques are subject to follow-up and support, including the small ones,” the minister underlined.

In this context, Al-Sheikh confirmed that the ministry did a very great job and had a well-thought-out strategy that was gradually applied to save Saudi Arabia from those with destructive ideas that were feeding divisions and seeking to drag the country into hotbeds of strife.

In a step to end the exploitation of platforms and mosques, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has developed a special program that does not allow any association or imam to employ any preacher or lecturer, except by referring to the regulations of program, which seeks to eliminate all ideas that contradict the Qur’an and the Islamic teachings.

He clarified that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has worked to uproot elements he described as “noxious and malignant.”

“We continue to monitor, and these matters will hold no sway,” the minister told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Al-Sheikh’s remarks came in the wake of the conclusion of the international Islamic conference, which was held under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The conference, organized by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Makkah, saw the participation of 150 scholars and muftis from the heads of Islamic centers and associations in 85 countries around the globe.

According to Al-Sheikh, this international gathering had many goals, which could be summarized in “strengthening links of communication and integration between the departments of religious affairs, ifta’s, and sheikhdoms in the world.”

“This is an important and powerful factor in changing the conceived ideas about Islam, in addition to demonstrating the efforts of these sheikhdoms to achieve the principles of moderation and to promote the values of tolerance and coexistence among peoples,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The minister also emphasized that the conference served noble objectives, by spreading true Islamic values grounded in the Quran and the Prophet’s teachings.

These values promote moderation, compassion, and reject violence, extremism, fanaticism, and terrorism, he emphasized.

Al-Sheikh added that the conference sought to promote Islamic unity among Muslims, while fighting extremist ideas, and protecting societies from atheism and dissolution. He pointed out that all scholars unanimously agreed to unite in combating terrorism and spreading moderation and tolerance.

He went on to say that there was a collective awareness at the level of nations and societies to combat such extremism.

The Minister of Islamic Affairs affirmed that Saudi Arabia paid great attention to the affairs of Islam and Muslims around the world, by addressing their needs and aspirations, and providing them with support in various fields.

“Saudi Arabia is steadfast in its faith, proud of its values, and calls upon the entire world to embrace this approach that embodies goodness, mercy, advocacy, moderation, and the rejection of extremism, radicalism, and atheism,” he added.

AANES Utilizes Half of Syrian Oil Wells, Traders Sell to Damascus at Symbolic Rates

File photo from the Al-Omar oil field in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. The image was captured after the conclusion of military operations and the expulsion of ISIS elements (Asharq Al-Awsat)
File photo from the Al-Omar oil field in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. The image was captured after the conclusion of military operations and the expulsion of ISIS elements (Asharq Al-Awsat)

AANES Utilizes Half of Syrian Oil Wells, Traders Sell to Damascus at Symbolic Rates

File photo from the Al-Omar oil field in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. The image was captured after the conclusion of military operations and the expulsion of ISIS elements (Asharq Al-Awsat)
File photo from the Al-Omar oil field in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. The image was captured after the conclusion of military operations and the expulsion of ISIS elements (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Over the course of twelve years of ongoing conflict in Syria, the dossier of oil and energy has remained an enigmatic puzzle. Ever since oil and gas fields slipped from the grip of government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad at the close of 2012, control over these resources has shifted among various entities.

It wasn't until 2016 that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by an international coalition led by Washington, managed to wrest control of the oil-rich and natural gas-abundant towns and settlements of Shaddadi, Al-Hol, and Al-Jabsa, southeast of the city of Al-Hasakah, from the clutches of the terrorist group ISIS.

Later in 2017, ISIS terrorists were expelled by the SDF from oil fields in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, located in eastern Syria. These fields used to yield a daily production of 120,000 barrels of heavy oil prior to the outbreak of the 2011 conflict.

Hassan Kocher, deputy co-chair of the Executive Council of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the administration invests in less than half of the wells and fields in its areas of influence, approximately 150,000 barrels per day, noting that production was around 385,000 barrels per day before the 2011 war.

Kocher refuted accusations directed at the AANES and US forces of plundering Syrian oil or monopolizing these resources, citing evidence of a portion of the production being sold to regime-affiliated traders at nominal prices compared to global rates.

Since the onset of the Syrian war, the regions encompassing oil fields and their wells have come under the control of various military factions.

Following 2014, especially in the outskirts of the cities of Deir Ezzor and Al-Hasakah, these fields faced military assaults from armed radical groups and extremist Islamic organizations.

These attacks significantly impacted these fields and wells, with some being destroyed and others subjected to vandalism, leading to a decline in production.

With limited resources, the AANES managed to harness a portion equivalent to less than half of the pre-2011 production from these wells to meet the energy and fuel needs of the region’s inhabitants, disclosed Kocher.

When asked about the status of oil and gas fields post their liberation of ISIS, Kocher said: “After SDF forces liberated fields in the outskirts of Deir Ezzor (2019) and Al-Hasakah (2016), they encountered logistical obstacles that hindered the production of many wells.”

“Some of the equipment was stolen, and another portion was deliberately vandalized, aiming to undermine the region’s economy,” added Kocher.

According to the deputy co-chair, remaining wells require maintenance, restoration, experts, technicians, and significant resources that the AANES does not possess.

“Additionally, the siege imposed on our areas from all sides has significantly contributed to the decline of the oil sector,” added Kocher.

As for revenues collected from oil and gas production under the AANES, Kocher said they flow back to the structures of the administration and local councils that oversee the regions, aimed at covering the expenses of the military and security forces safeguarding their geographical borders.

“These revenues also contribute to the overall budget, enabling the provision of essential services for the region’s residents and supporting the payment of salaries for workers and employees,” clarified Kocher.

Talking about the buying and selling operations conducted with Damascus and other areas of influence, Kocher said there are “no official contracts or established methods due to the fact that all borders are besieged and closed.”

“There is also no agreement for the sale and purchase of crude oil, neither with the Syrian government nor with other entities,” added Kocher.

“Here, it is crucial to emphasize the necessity of establishing a mechanism to regulate these operations, as it would be a positive development in serving all Syrians, regardless of their geographical location, as we are a part of Syria and these resources belong to all Syrians,” he affirmed.

Buying and selling operations are conducted through traders affiliated with the regime, and the quantities extracted nowadays barely suffice for the region’s population needs.

“Despite this, a portion of the extracted oil is sold through these traders to Damascus, while another portion is bought by traders for resale to other areas,” said Kocher, asserting that the AANES does not monopolize these resources, contrary to the claims of both the government and opposing factions.

“It has become widely known that the administration’s own regions are grappling with severe crises in the distribution of household gas and diesel fuel,” noted Kocher.

As for accusations of plundering Syrian oil leveled by the Syrian regime and international parties against the SDF and US forces, Kocher asserted that those allegations are utterly false.

“These claims are entirely baseless, both in their entirety and in their details,” said Kocher.

“The international coalition and US forces have not intervened in the oil issue.”

“Officially, they state that their tasks are limited to combating and defeating the terrorist organization ISIS and eliminating its sleeper cells in eastern Syria.”

Regarding the AANES presenting the US-led international coalition with a project for building an oil refinery, Kocher admits the administration had submitted such a proposal.

“Given that our regions are surrounded on all sides and lack official crossings, these efforts have not succeeded in establishing such a facility,” revealed Kocher.

“To this day, oil refining continues to be carried out using primitive methods that negatively impact environmental safety, as well as the overall economic cycle of northeastern Syria due to the absence of oil investments,” he added.

Azerbaijan Presidential Advisor: We Are Establishing a Strong Strategic Relationship with Saudi Arabia

Hikmet Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan. Photo: Yazeed Al-Samrani
Hikmet Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan. Photo: Yazeed Al-Samrani

Azerbaijan Presidential Advisor: We Are Establishing a Strong Strategic Relationship with Saudi Arabia

Hikmet Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan. Photo: Yazeed Al-Samrani
Hikmet Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan. Photo: Yazeed Al-Samrani

Hikmet Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President of Azerbaijan, has affirmed that his country is in the process of establishing a robust strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat published Wednesday, Hajiyev revealed that his recent visit to the Kingdom is part of the effort to discuss the merits of enhancing bilateral relations and fostering comprehensive cooperation between the two nations across various domains, notably in the realm of renewable energy projects.

“My visit comes within the framework of enhancing the deep bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, and furthering cooperation across various fields and exploring new opportunities,” said Hajiyev.

“These two nations share a history of traditional friendship and camaraderie,” he affirmed.

“The relationship between our two countries can aptly be described as one of friendship, brotherhood, and partnership.”

“The Azerbaijani people deeply appreciate and hold in high esteem the unwavering stance of our sister nation, Saudi Arabia, in condemning the military aggression by Armenia against Azerbaijan.”

Saudi Arabia’s principled stand, in alignment with international justice, United Nations Security Council resolutions, principles of international law, and Islamic solidarity, serves as a living example to the world, asserted Hajiyev.

“Our nations support each other within the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and other international institutions.”

“We hold in high regard Saudi Arabia’s role in fostering Azerbaijan's ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council states and the League of Arab States.”

He wished Saudi Arabia success in hosting Expo 2030 and said he highly values the Kingdom’s efforts in maintaining peace and security in the region and the world.

Furthermore, Hajiyev affirmed that Azerbaijan unequivocally condemns missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, viewing them as unacceptable acts.

As for relations between Baku and Riyadh, the presidential advisor said they were “evolving day by day.”

“Tourism is one of the crucial sectors for us, with the number of direct flights between Azerbaijan and the Kingdom on the rise,” revealed Hajiyev.

In 2022, around 100,000 Saudi nationals visited Azerbaijan.

“We anticipate further progress, as a matter of fact, we aspire to advance our relations with Saudi Arabia in economic and trade sectors, increase investments, and collaborate in areas such as agriculture and food security,” Hajiyev told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He expected Saudi companies to actively participate in the reconstruction process of the liberated lands in Azerbaijan.

As for Azerbaijan having any plans to develop and bolster ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Hajiyev said: “Azerbaijan has historical relations with members of the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia.”

“We believe that establishing institutional cooperation between Gulf states and Azerbaijan is of paramount importance.”

There exists an MoU outlining a consultation mechanism between the General Secretariat of the GCC and the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, he said.

“We can engage in a security dialogue between the Gulf states and Azerbaijan to address regional and international security matters.”

“Furthermore, we require further collaboration in the realm of economic and trade relations, as well as expanding humanitarian cooperation,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat

He affirmed that there is significant potential for cooperation between Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and Gulf states, especially the Kingdom.

Additionally, Hajiyev expressed anticipation for collaboration with Riyadh in the renewable energy sector, citing Saudi company “ACWA Power” investing in Azerbaijan.

When asked about his country’s relations with Iran, Hajiyev said: “Iran is Azerbaijan’s neighbor.”

“Azerbaijan maintains relations with its neighbors based on principles of mutual respect for territorial integrity, sovereignty, and non-interference in internal affairs,” he asserted.

“Azerbaijan and Iran share a historical neighborhood, but the recent attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Iran and the killing of an embassy member have led to tension and misunderstanding in our relations,” he noted.

“Diplomatic channels are currently engaged, and relevant Iranian officials are also visiting Azerbaijan.”

“Dialogue continues at the foreign ministerial level to mitigate these tensions and misunderstandings,” he added.

Regarding future energy security, Hajiyev remarked: “Azerbaijan is a traditional exporter of carbon hydrogen energy.”

“However, as announced by the President of Azerbaijan, the country is now transitioning to producing and exporting green energy.”

This is part of the country’s economic diversification strategy, explained Hajiyev.

“Azerbaijan holds immense potential in green energy,” he said, adding that his country is currently advancing international cooperation in this field.

According to an agreement between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania, and Hungary, an undersea cable line will be established beneath the Black Sea, with a focus on transmitting green energy.

On whether Azerbaijan is seeking to join OPEC, Hajiyev noted that his country has the OPEC formula which has provided an opportunity for cooperation between both Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia to contribute to the stability of oil prices, ensuring the proper balance between supply and demand.

“We actively collaborate and contribute to matters related to the OPEC format,” he said.

“In this regard, frequent reciprocal visits, meetings, and consultations between our energy ministers are of great significance,” clarified Hajiyev.

Shukria Barakzai to Asharq Al-Awsat: I was on Taliban’s Hated List

Former Afghan Ambassador and Deputy Shukria Barakzai (Exclusive – Asharq Al-Awsat)
Former Afghan Ambassador and Deputy Shukria Barakzai (Exclusive – Asharq Al-Awsat)

Shukria Barakzai to Asharq Al-Awsat: I was on Taliban’s Hated List

Former Afghan Ambassador and Deputy Shukria Barakzai (Exclusive – Asharq Al-Awsat)
Former Afghan Ambassador and Deputy Shukria Barakzai (Exclusive – Asharq Al-Awsat)

Shukria Barakzai, the former Afghan ambassador to Norway and a human rights activist, said she was on the Taliban's wanted list after the fall of Kabul in 2021, and attributed her successful escape from the Afghan capital to the assistance provided by the British.

“I was on the (Taliban’s) hated list, and they were looking for me after the fall of Kabul, in August 2021, until I was able to leave the Afghan capital thanks to the help of the British,” Shukria Barakzai, who is also ethnic Pashtun parliamentarian, told Asharq Al-Awsat in an exclusive interview.

In November 2014, Barakzai survived a suicide car bombing during the tenure of former President Ashraf Ghani, who condemned the terrorist attack.

The explosion, which took place a few meters away from the parliament headquarters in Kabul, failed to achieve its goal of killing the Afghan parliamentarian and journalist, but led to the death of three civilians and the injury of 22 others, most of whom were university students.

Answering Asharq Al-Awsat’s questions via voice messages on WhatsApp from London, Barakzai said: “It was not only the Taliban that threatened me, but also the corruption mafia and businessmen whom I exposed under the dome of parliament... They hate me, and I always knew that, but I didn’t pay much attention to their criticism.”

Commenting on the current situation in Afghanistan under the Taliban, she stated: “This group does not have any kind of definition of the type of state they pursue, the type of rights and duties that citizens enjoy, and what the (Taliban) as an actual government can offer (to the people).”

“In addition, the (Taliban) regime has not gained any kind of recognition from the international community and neighboring countries. As for the women of Afghanistan, they have been erased from (public) life, from work, education, social space and politics. Unfortunately, the dramatic change reveals to us the deep challenges facing our country,” the former diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Barakzai recounted that she was in the country when the Taliban seized power. She stayed at Kabul Airport during the evacuations in August 2021, until she was able to get out via a military plane to Brize Norton Airport in Britain.

“I was not someone who could hide his name, face, or voice. I was very familiar to the Afghan people, including members of the Taliban. It was a big challenge for me, and the (Taliban) members were chasing me. I was on their hatred list... Fortunately, the United Kingdom made a lot of efforts for me inside Afghanistan, and (eventually) I was evacuated to London with the help of the British and Americans,” she said.

Barakzai has five children, who all live in Europe. She noted that her eldest daughter was married and working in medicine, while her second daughter was a university student and the third was preparing to join the university.

She said in this regard: “Fortunately, none of my children decided to work in the political field, because they probably know what the life of a politician would be like. However, they are all women’s rights and human rights activists. They also show more concern for the environment. Therefore, they understand what it means to be a responsible citizen.”

Recalling the day when she was attacked and injured in Kabul before she left Afghanistan, Barakzai told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I remember that moment, November 16, 2014... It was in the morning, exactly at 10, and I remember how one was paying a heavy price for raising his voice against warlords and tycoons, drugs and the Taliban, that is, against all forms of extremism. This wasn’t the first attack against me, but it was a wake-up call for other women inside Afghanistan.”

She concluded: “The truth is that accepting women in a male dominated society like Afghanistan is not an easy task, but I will never give up. We will not concede, not only me, but I am talking about the women of Afghanistan. Of course, we will have more women in parliament if fair elections are held.”

Aisha Musa Criticizes ‘Opportunists’ of Sudan’s Crisis

A file photo of the resigned member of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Dr. Aisha Musa (Reuters)
A file photo of the resigned member of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Dr. Aisha Musa (Reuters)

Aisha Musa Criticizes ‘Opportunists’ of Sudan’s Crisis

A file photo of the resigned member of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Dr. Aisha Musa (Reuters)
A file photo of the resigned member of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Dr. Aisha Musa (Reuters)

As all eyes turn to Jeddah, where a new round of negotiations is expected to start between representatives of the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the resigned member of the Sovereign Council, Dr. Aisha Musa, stressed the “necessity of unifying the military institution”, and called on the concerned parties at home and abroad to draw up a plan to rebuild Sudan.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Musa strongly criticized “those who dominated the Sudanese scene and claimed to be the leaders of the delicate stage, while being opportunistic and seeking to achieve their personal goals or the ambitions of their godfathers, including the corrupt regimes or countries greedy for Sudan’s wealth.”

Musa said that her political movement, the National Mechanism for Democratic Transformation and Cessation of War, considered that a solution to the conflict begins with the formation of an emergency government led by competent and experienced members, who would adopt an approach that relies on the visions of broad constitutional popular debate, leading to the establishment of a transitional government and transparent elections.

The Sudanese official went on to affirm that neither the army nor militias of all kind have a place in the political scene.

“Rather, it is the role of civil society. The unified army, without accessories, is the guardian of the country and its security,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

She added: “This was a proposal known at the beginning of my term at the Sovereign Council, and before the country reached this disaster. Back then, I called for demobilizing the Rapid Support members, disarming them and giving them the choice between joining the military institution according to its laws, or receiving their dues, and leaving. I think that was the time when the relationship between the three sides worsened... prompting me to reveal the secrets and resign.”

Musa underlined the need to draw up “an accurate plan for post-war reconstruction, and to initiate a fair and deterrent accountability for those who caused, contributed to and carried out this devastating war, and justice for the millions of peaceful martyrs and victims, including children, women and the elderly.”

Tajik Foreign Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: Gulf-Central Asian Road Map for the Next 5 Years

The minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, Sirojiddin Muhriddin (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, Sirojiddin Muhriddin (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Tajik Foreign Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: Gulf-Central Asian Road Map for the Next 5 Years

The minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, Sirojiddin Muhriddin (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, Sirojiddin Muhriddin (Asharq Al-Awsat)

As Dushanbe and Riyadh are seeking to enhance bilateral and multilateral relations, a high-level Tajik diplomat unveiled a joint action plan that would represent a road map between the Gulf Cooperation Council and Central Asian countries for 2023-2027, stressing that the geopolitical conditions have necessitated the establishment of a new formula for cooperation between the two regions.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan, Sirojiddin Muhriddin, said that existing challenges and crises, such as the growth of terrorist and extremist groups, drug trafficking and climate change, constituted common threats that required the protection of security along the borders of the concerned countries.

“It is clear that the political, economic, social and military situations and developments, in addition to climate change in the region and throughout the world, have created common threats and dangers not only for our countries, but for the entire modern world,” he said.

He added that unrest and military conflicts in different parts of the world, including crises in the Middle East and the Asian region on the one hand, and threats related to water, sanitation, food shortages and climate change, on the other, called for the need to “engage in a common struggle in order to maintain international and regional peace and security and a peaceful life of the peoples of the world.”

“In this context, the Republic of Tajikistan welcomes the efforts of the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to ensure the development of the countries of the Islamic world in the economic, social and humanitarian fields, which, from our point of view, is an effective way to combat modern security challenges,” Muhriddin said.

Asked about the Gulf-Asian summit, which kicked off on Wednesday in Jeddah, the Tajik diplomat said that the most important issues on the agenda revolved around the desire of the countries of the two regions to further strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation in all vital sectors, including the political and security fields, in addition to economy, trade, investment, tourism, health, youth and sports.

“In view of the rapidly changing geopolitical situation today, and the political and economic developments in the region and the world, the emergence of this idea, i.e. establishing a new formula for cooperation, is an indication of the need for a new phase of relations between the countries of the two regions,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He continued: “We are certain that the main concern of the first summit of heads of state of the two regions will focus on these issues and on strengthening relations and cooperation between our peoples.”

Muhriddin expressed his sincere thanks and gratitude to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the General Secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council for organizing the historic summit.

He unveiled the approval of a joint action plan (road map) between the GCC and Central Asian countries for the years 2023-2027, which will be endorsed by Gulf and Asian leaders during the Jeddah Summit.

According to the Tajik minister, climate change constitutes an urgent threat to the countries of both regions and the world in general, pointing to the importance of cooperation between the countries, including Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia, to face these challenges.

He stressed that the global initiatives in the field of water, climate and the environment, including plans launched by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, and the environmental initiatives of Prince Mohammad bin Salman, including the Green Saudi and the Green Middle East initiatives, were all aimed at implementing the goals of sustainable development.

He added: “We are grateful to the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council for their continued support for the global initiatives of the Republic of Tajikistan in the areas of water, climate and regional security. We also appreciate the support of brotherly countries in the region for the fifth global initiative of the Republic of Tajikistan to proclaim 2025 the International Year for the Preservation of Glaciers.

Asked about the relations between Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan, Muhriddin said that those were based on common cultural values and historical ties.

“The Tajik and Saudi peoples combine high cultural and spiritual values and historical and cultural ties that extend back more than a thousand years,” he underlined.

The minister continued: “We believe that the great opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation have not yet been fully exploited. We look forward to further developing and expanding cooperation with Saudi Arabia, which is important for both countries.”

According to the Tajik minister, trade and economic cooperation was one of the priorities of the bilateral relations, stressing the need to increase the volume of trade and to promote investments between the two sides.

In this regard, he pointed to the field of producing competitive export commodities, especially drinking water and environmentally friendly fruits and vegetables.

Referring to the establishment of a joint business council between Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan, Muhriddin said that economic forums and exhibitions of agricultural and industrial products and other joint events played an important role in fostering economic relations.

“There are favorable prospects to expand cooperation in the implementation of joint projects in the free economic zones of the Republic of Tajikistan; Therefore, I call on the investors in the sister Kingdom to take full advantage of these opportunities,” he emphasized.

The minister said that the government of Tajikistan has allowed citizens of Saudi Arabia to enter the country without a visa since the beginning of 2022. Meanwhile, in March 2023, the Tajik airline SOMON AIR launched direct flights on the Dushanbe-Jeddah-Dushanbe route, three times a week.

He noted that these steps were important for the development and strengthening of trade cooperation between the two countries.

“We are keen to align the activities of the Joint Commission with the noble goals of the strategic economic and trade partnership and the strategic goals of the national development of our countries for the year 2030,” Muhriddin told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Commenting on challenges of climate protection and digitization, the diplomat said that the unprecedented droughts and floods that occurred in recent years, including the Central Asian region, proved that climate change remained one of the world’s major problems.

He said that mountains covered 93 percent of his country’s territory, making it highly vulnerable to climate change, adding: “Natural disasters associated with this process cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to our country’s economy each year, and in many cases, in loss of life.”

On the other hand, Muhriddin noted that the share of Tajikistan in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions was very small, as the country ranks 130th globally. He also said more than 98 percent of electricity in Tajikistan came from renewable sources, i.e. green energy, in particular hydropower.

“At the same time, we plan to increase our share in the implementation of the “zero waste” strategy by developing green energy by 2050,” the minister told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the government of Tajikistan has adopted the National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change 2030 and a number of other documents.

Water resources play a major role in adapting to climate change, as well as mitigating its consequences. The increase in water-related natural disasters highlights the inextricable link between water resources and climate change, according to Muhriddin.

“At the same time, the Kingdom is also implementing important programs and strategies towards combating climate challenges. These initiatives are appreciated by the entire international community,” he said, stressing that Tajikistan was ready to exchange experiences with Saudi Arabia in the fields of climate and economic digitization.