Iraq PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Are Destined to Rid Ourselves of Foreign Hegemony

Kadhimi condemns rocket attacks, underlines close cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at his office in Baghdad on June 4, 2020. (Reuters)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at his office in Baghdad on June 4, 2020. (Reuters)

Iraq PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Are Destined to Rid Ourselves of Foreign Hegemony

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at his office in Baghdad on June 4, 2020. (Reuters)
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at his office in Baghdad on June 4, 2020. (Reuters)

Baghdad is preparing to welcome on Friday Pope Francis I, who will be embarking on a historic visit that underlines “coexistence and tolerance” and highlights Iraq’s efforts to restore the authority of its state institutions and its role in the region and world. Iraq is bracing for a number of developments, starting with how the relations between Iran and the new American administration will unfold. Many believe that the “heated” state of affairs in Iraq can be blamed on the strained relations between Washington and Tehran. How these ties develop or deteriorate will naturally have an impact on the upcoming early elections in Iraq that will reflect the influence enjoyed by parties, factions and the state alike.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi sat down for an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat to address these issues and more. The interview was supposed to be held in Baghdad, but the coronavirus pandemic forced it to be held virtually:

You are preparing for Pope Francis’ first ever visit. How do you view it?
The visit for us and all of our people, without exception, reflects the pope’s understanding and support for the approach of tolerance and national partnership among all Iraqis, regardless of their religious and sectarian affiliations. The visit is a gesture by the pope aimed at highlighting Iraq’s standing, which has been consolidated throughout history as a cradle of civilizations, human heritage, monotheistic religions, cultures and discoveries.

The pope is expected to meet with top Shiite authority Ali al-Sistani. Is this a message that underlines coexistence? Will a certain document be released to underscore this?
One aspect of the visit as a whole is aimed at stressing coexistence between Christians and Muslims, and religions and sects, in spite of the unfortunate developments that had impacted everyone. The visit aims to highlight the positives. An official source from Sistani’s office had previously said that the pope will not sign any document during his meeting with the high authority.

Will the visit pose a security challenge given ISIS attacks and the practices of armed groups? Do all major political blocs welcome the visit?
The government is not facing any fundamental challenges on the security level. The government and security agencies have taken the necessary measures that should secure the Pontiff’s movement and safety. Moreover, he will be protected by the Iraqis wherever he is because the people of Iraq highly appreciate his humanitarian positions. The preparations to welcome him reflect the high standing and regard in which everyone perceives the pope.

You were credited with helping Iraq avoid an Iranian-American military confrontation during Trump’s tenure. Can you reveal some details?
I did nothing more in this regard than what my duty in protecting Iraq and the Iraqis demand. We have repeatedly firmly stressed our rejection of turning our country into an arena for a proxy war or for Iraq to be used as a platform to launch attacks. This is a constant policy that we have sought to consolidate and we have worked on applying it on the ground.

At the same time, we have invested our positive and balanced ties with all sides towards easing tensions and escalation in the region. The fate of Iraq lies in the hands of the Iraqis alone. There is a regional and international understanding of Iraq’s role and standing and its people’s desire that no one meddle in their country’s internal affairs. We have told everyone: We are not an open arena. A strong and united Iraq will act as a positive factor in cementing security, peace and cooperation in the region and world.

I would like to add that the attempt to weaken Iraq or take it out of international and regional equations has had dire consequences on all sides. Even though the world viewed ISIS as a dangerous international threat, the Iraqis on the ground confronted and defeated it through the help of their neighbors and friends.

Our intelligence agencies and security forces all came together recently, uncovering ISIS’ movements, cells, leaderships and hideouts, which they surrounded and defeated. This confirms that the stability of Iraq is necessary for the region and world. This is something we seek to underscore and consolidate.

Do you believe the rocket attacks against the the Green Zone and American bases are part of the vengeance for the killing of [Iranian Quds Force commander] Qassem Soleimani or part of pressure on Washington to lift sanctions against Iran and resume negotiations?
From our end and based on our mutual interests, we believe that the best way to restore normal relations in the region lies in diplomatic consultations and negotiations that can reach balanced solutions that meet everyone’s demands. Those resorting to threats and the use of force will eventually find themselves on the losing end, sooner or later. Such an approach does not benefit anyone, rather it goes against the interests of the peoples of the region and only fuels instability and tensions.

Our security agencies are monitoring outlawed groups that are trying to reshuffle cards through their rocket attacks. Suspects have been detained and they will appear before the judiciary. Our one and only choice is the Iraqi state and respect for its laws, agreements and decisions. Decisions of war and peace are taken by the state alone, not individuals or groups. Any violation of the state will be confronted by the rule of law and the judiciary.

Some sides believe that they can usurp the state’s voice and decision-making power. Those sides are nothing more than outlawed criminals. We will pursue them and uncover their malign goals. In fact, some of those bullying the state, its system, laws and sovereignty now believe their illusions, which were shaped during past circumstances. These circumstances have now changed. We will not allow violations to be committed at the expense of the Iraqi people. Our people’s aspirations dictate our actions and choices. Any other option that contradicts the will of the people will be defeated.

The use of Iraqi territories to deliver political messages is only permissible when they are sent through diplomatic channels and political methods. We are doing this out of the sense of responsibility towards our people and based on our drive to cement calm in the region. We will not allow rocket or terrorist messages. No country has the right to deliver messages to others at the expense of the security and stability of our people. The Iraqi government, people and political forces reject any meddling in their internal affairs.

Where are the relations between Baghdad and Washington headed? Is Iran insisting on the United States’ complete military withdrawal from Iraq? Will NATO replace American forces? Is the American military necessary for you in confronting a possible resurgence of ISIS?
Our ties with Washington are bound by agreements that have been ratified by the legislative authority. These agreements underscore our commitment to our national sovereignty and interests. The presence of American and international coalition forces does not go beyond these agreements. We have reiterated this whenever Iraqi-American ties are discussed.

Iraq needed international help in the war against ISIS. This pushed us to launch the strategic dialogue with the US in order to set the arrangements for the post-war phase. The arrangements are mainly tied to training, logistic support and joint efforts to combat ISIS and terrorism.

Iraq and its government alone decide the fate of foreign forces deployed in their country, regardless of their identity. This decision, which is ultimately about national sovereignty, is not connected to other goals.

How do you assess the improvement in relations with Saudi Arabia on various levels? Will you visit Riyadh soon?
We are keen on establishing the best relations with Arab countries, our neighbors and the world. With Saudi Arabia, we are bound with ties of fraternity, joint history, culture and constant interests. We are satisfied with the development of relations between our countries and the growing tangible business cooperation. Visits are constantly being made by officials from both countries. I also held a successful virtual meeting with my brother Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of the Iraqi-Saudi coordination council. We are in constant contact and nothing but the coronavirus pandemic is impeding mutual visits.

Some sides have spoken of the possible formation of an axis that includes Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. Is this currently on the table? Is this the new “Mashreq” (Orient) that you spoke about?
We are not inclined to join axes or groupings that imply alignment or isolation. We only seek agreements that help promote joint efforts that benefit the interests of our people and countries. It may be beneficial to lay the foundation for model relations with an Arab or regional country without it having to devolve into a negative grouping. We are bolstering our ties with Egypt and Jordan based on this approach.

The concept of the new Mashreq is based on prioritizing the common interests of regional countries and dispelling doubts and illusions. Our region boasts all the factors that allow not only the establishment of joint security, but a system of deep cooperation that would allow us all to translate our human, cultural and natural potential into a productive global cooperation system. This would replace the cycle of crises and conflicts. The cooperation can start by building on common factors and modernizing our way of thinking. Terrorism is the region’s main enemy. Doubts, lack of communication and the neglect of common factors are part of the problems of our region that need to be addressed.

Turning to the future requires the use of the tools of the future, not the past. In spite all of its crises, the region is ready to make this choice.

Do you think that the goal to restore the authority of the state is moving forward despite the assassination of activists, rocket attacks and spread of illegal arms? Do you expect actual results from the early elections?
From the moment this government came to power, it acknowledged that Iraq is suffering from the severe tensions between the state - with all of its elements, values, laws, defenders and supporters - and the forces of the “non-state” - with all of their hurdles and deliberate attempts to marginalize and undermine the state or weaken its ability to protect the people and achieve stability and security.

It is no secret that since the ouster of the authoritarian Saddam Hussein regime, Iraq has endured difficult and complicated circumstances. It was not prepared to meet the aspirations of our people that were calling for completing the process of rebuilding the state and its institutions. Takfiri terrorism, remnants of the Baath regime, the unfortunate sectarian conflict, security chaos, corruption, reluctance to introduce reform and positive change and achieve national unity all prevented the rebuilding of a national state system along constitutional lines.

It is also obvious that some of these factors are still present and still obstructing state work. Financial and administrative corruption are other factors at play. The project to restore state authority primarily requires continued political efforts that connect with all economic, social and military elements. It also needs to establish an environment of social reconciliation and a political desire that can restore the state for all Iraqis. Here, we must stress that the project of building a state is an accumulative process that does not come to a halt over a minor detail.

Early elections are a popular demand that has been expressed clearly by all members of society and has been backed by the top Shiite authority and all political forces – whether out of their own conviction or just to humor the people. Transparent and fair elections are at the heart of our duty in this government. Holding them will help rebuild the trust that has unfortunately grown between the people and state institutions.

The Iraqi government appears caught in a tight spot between Tehran, Washington, the Iranian supreme leader and Sistani. Can Iraq become a normal independent state away from foreign hegemony?
Iraq is destined to become an independent state away from foreign hegemony and the fate of peoples has always been the rejection of foreign dictates. We cannot say that Iraq today is living under international or foreign hegemony. Rather, political circumstances and grave errors that have been committed against the people for decades have helped transform the country into an open ground for ambitions and adventures and excessive extremist violence. The state today is trying to regain its balance and seeking success by imposing this balance against opponents. It is seeking to consolidate positive relations with neighbors and the international community and the spirit of dialogue and national responsibility, which are key to reclaiming the state and rejecting its transformation once again into an open arena for others.

Are the armed factions preventing serious efforts to capture those behind the assassination of activists and thwarting efforts to combat major corrupt figures?
We have made strides in cracking down on and arresting those behind the assassinations. We have also recently captured one of the largest death squads in Basra. Dozens of suspects and fugitives have been arrested for their involvement in assassinations. As we have previously said, the state chooses the right time to wage its battle - which has not stopped - against the assassination, kidnapping, extortion and drug gangs.

We started the battle against corruption with boldness despite the objections and threats that we received. We formed a committee to combat corruption and succeeded in uncovering several acts of fraud. Verdicts and sentences have been issued against corrupt figures who were previously thought to be untouchable.

Our way of achieving the government agenda relies on constitutional mechanisms and the law, away from the politicization of the fight against corruption, criminal gangs and illegal weapons. An unbiased reading of the government’s achievements in a short period of time will clearly demonstrate what has been achieved away from the media spotlight or political debates.

Are you seeking a second term as prime minister? Why haven’t you stepped down as head of intelligence? Have the agencies discovered attempts against your life?
I was chosen to lead Iraq through a very specific transitional phase. I hope that I would succeed in this national mission during this critical time. I will in no way allow the results of the elections to impact this mission. My position allows me to oversee the armed forces. This does not contradict with my continued responsibility towards an important apparatus in its security agencies. What I am concerned about is motivating our agencies to be constantly vigilant in uncovering terrorist cells and forces that want to target the security of Iraq and its people.

Today, I am focused on leading the country towards safety and preventing it from sliding towards a dangerous position that would impact the security, unity and future of our people. My duty before our people and history is focused on protecting the state - today and in the future - against attempts to again put it at risk.

Do you think ties between Baghdad and Erbil are as they should be?
If you want me to compare between the current state of relations and our common aspirations for the ties to develop into national partnership based on the constitution and meeting the demands of our people in Kurdistan, then the answer would be no. The ongoing dialogue between Kurdish Region delegations and the federal government aims to achieve the partnership that we aspire for with our brothers in Kurdistan. We want to achieve the goals of the Kurds as we do the goals of Iraqis throughout the country. The government has helped eliminate differences with the Kurdistan Region. Everything ultimately hinges on what the parliament decides on the budget and other issues.

We believe that meeting commitments in line with the constitution and resolving any dispute with Kurdistan is a primary factor in the recovery of political life, consolidating stability and defeating terrorism and all other forces that want to harm Iraq.

How do you assess the situation in Syria and its impact on Iraq’s stability?
Anything that harms Syria and its people will harm us and the interests of our people. We believe that whatever happens in Syria will impact its surroundings, especially Iraq, whether we like it or not. ISIS still has footholds along our border with Syria. This poses a danger to both our countries and people. This is the primary concern in our bilateral relations.

How do you describe current relations between Baghdad and Beirut?
Our relations with our brothers in Lebanon are good and promising. We are in communication with and sympathize with them in all the efforts they are taking to ease their crisis. We are ready to extend a brotherly helping hand as much as our circumstances allow us.

How much are you concerned with the ongoing Turkish operations inside Iraqi territories?
We are concerned with anything that harms our sovereignty and interests. The positive bonds we enjoy with our Turkish neighbor help ease our concerns. The recent statements by the Turkish president that he wanted to dispel our concern over our relations are reassuring.

State Department to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Look Forward to Riyadh Summits Outcomes, Committed to Release of Hostages

US Department of State regional spokesman Samuel Warburg. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
US Department of State regional spokesman Samuel Warburg. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

State Department to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Look Forward to Riyadh Summits Outcomes, Committed to Release of Hostages

US Department of State regional spokesman Samuel Warburg. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
US Department of State regional spokesman Samuel Warburg. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

As Israel intensified its strikes on hospitals and schools in Gaza, a US official justified his country’s use of the veto power against a resolution to stop the war. The official said the United Nations resolution did not stipulate Israel’s right to self-defense against attacks by Hamas. He stressed that his country will work towards including these points in any UN resolutions in the future.

US Department of State regional spokesman Samuel Warburg told Asharq Al-Awsat that his country supports efforts aimed at bolstering peace and stability and was working with all concerned parties to achieve these goals and boost opportunities for cooperation and constructive understanding.

On the meetings of the ministerial committee that was formed at the Arab and Islamic summits in Riyadh, he said his country was keen on the outcomes of these summits to achieve joint goals such as ending the current conflict and establishing the two-state solution.

On the hostages, Warburg said his country was committed to securing their release unconditionally and safely. “We are working with our partners in the region to help towards this goal. We appreciate their help in facilitating dialogue and negotiations to ensure their release,” he added.

The US, meanwhile, is maintaining its support to humanitarian efforts in Gaza, including facilitating the delivery of aid.

*Given the unlimited American support to Israel, what are the chances of cooperation between the US and its regional partners being consolidated?

The United States underscores the right of any nation, including Israel, to defend itself and its people in line with international law. At the same time, we stress the importance of adhering to international regulations and commitments related to protecting civilians.

Let us not forget that Hamas is a terrorist movement. It launched violent terrorist attacks against civilians on October 7. It therefore is responsible for this destruction and harm done to innocent civilians. Hamas doesn’t care for the lives of civilians. It has long used Gaza’s civilian residents as human shields.

The United States enjoys strong and solid relations with its allies in the Middle East and North Africa region. We are working together on several important files, including fighting terrorism and bolstering regional security and stability and supporting diplomatic efforts to resolve conflicts. Cooperation also ensures the exchange of expertise and joint training and cooperation in fields, such as economic development and environmental challenges.

It is through these partnerships that we are seeking to build a more secure and stable region that offers development opportunities and prosperity to its people. These are integral parts of our efforts to achieve long-term stability and peace. We believe these partnerships will continue and develop further.

*What justification does the US have in using its veto power against a UN resolution on ending the war in Gaza?

The use of the veto stems from the basis of supporting specific elements related to the possibility of delivering humanitarian aid to civilians. As our ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, we would have preferred if the draft resolutions would have spoken about Israel’s right to self-defense and condemned the terrorist attacks by Hamas. We will seek that these two elements are included in any future resolutions.

The US is not waiting for the UN Security Council to take action. Since the eruption of the conflict, President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken led international efforts in support of calls to step up the pace of providing aid to civilians in Gaza. Indeed, several aid convoys have entered Gaza, but this is not enough. We will continue to increase the pressure to expand this operation as soon as possible.

The US will also continue to press for the release of the hostages unconditionally and safely. We will continue to work closely with members of the Security Council to find a way that enables the council to stress the need to protect civilians, bolster humanitarian support, condemn Hamas’ terrorist acts and underscore the right of each nation to defend itself against terrorism.

*Israel continues to destroy hospitals and schools in Gaza and to barbarically kill civilians. What guarantees are there that the war won’t expand and spill over into the region?

The US remains committed towards working on preventing the expansion of the conflict and stoking more tensions in the region. We are well aware of the dangerous impact the attacks are having on civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, and the loss of civilian lives. We stress the importance of committing to international humanitarian law and protecting civilians. But we must remember one basic point here, and that is that Hamas is a terrorist movement and it is using civilian areas as safe havens. It is hiding there and perhaps endangering the lives of civilians. This underscores its disregard for the lives of civilians.

From our end, we are stressing to international and regional partners the importance of avoiding any move that could lead to an escalation of the conflict and its spillover. We urge any country or side to refrain from exploiting the situation to achieve political or military gain and to think twice before making a move.

The United States’ main goal is supporting peace efforts and achieving stability in the region. We are working towards facilitating dialogue and searching for diplomatic solutions that guarantee the security and safety of all peoples in the region.

*Some observers believe that the double standards in which the US is dealing with Israel’s war on Gaza is feeding terrorism and encouraging the militias to expand the war. What do you say to this?

American foreign policy is based on bolstering security and peace. It seeks a balanced approach in how it deals with international crises. We are working with our international and regional partners to encourage diplomatic solutions and reduce the tensions in the region. We are concerned with stability and peace and we are maintaining our efforts to confront terrorism and back lasting solutions that would benefit all concerned parties.

*What is the US position on the outcomes of the expected ministerial meeting that was planned by the Arab and Islamic summits?

The US is looking forward to these summits. We realize that we share several joint goals with countries in the region, including ending the current conflict and reaching a two-state solution, which equally affords all Palestinians and Israelis dignity, prosperity and freedom. The US is prepared to work with all concerned parties to achieve these goals and bolster opportunities for cooperation through dialogue and diplomacy.

*To what extent will the Israeli violations against civilians in Gaza impede the policy of normalization with other countries in the region?

We can’t speak on behalf of the Israeli government, but when it comes to our policy, our current diplomatic efforts are focusing on the current crisis. At the same time, the US remains committed to the long-term goal which is achieving a more stable and prosperous Middle East through bolstering the normalization process and making progress in the two-state solution.

*What are the latest developments related to the US measures on the situation in Gaza and the release of hostages?

We are committed to securing the unconditional and safe release of the hostages. As Secretary Blinken said, we are working with partners in the region towards that end. We appreciate the help these countries are providing in terms of facilitating dialogue and negotiations to release the hostages. In addition, the US continues to support humanitarian efforts in Gaza, including facilitating the entry of humanitarian aid. We stress the importance of providing the constant and sustainable necessary support to all civilians.

Eritrean President to Asharq Al-Awsat: Partnership with Saudi Arabia will Uplift Region from Underdevelopment Swamp

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (Photo Credit: Bashir Saleh)
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (Photo Credit: Bashir Saleh)

Eritrean President to Asharq Al-Awsat: Partnership with Saudi Arabia will Uplift Region from Underdevelopment Swamp

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (Photo Credit: Bashir Saleh)
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (Photo Credit: Bashir Saleh)

In a scathing attack, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki criticized the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Afwerki asserted that the bodies mentioned were “stillborn,” holding them responsible for the political, economic, and social deterioration in African nations.

The African leader added that these organizations were causing the exhaustion of populations, leading them on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean, and subjecting them to Western exploitation, seizing their decision-making power.

The Eritrean president, however, appeared optimistic about Saudi-African partnership, deeming it as a lifeline for the region’s people, rescuing them from the quagmire of underdevelopment and propelling them towards progress and sustainable development.

He emphasized the potential to harness the natural resources of the African continent, comprising over 60% of the world's resources.

This partnership, according to Afwerki, aims to secure food sources in the face of climate change-induced scarcity.

Speaking from his residence at the Ritz-Carlton in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, after participating in the Saudi-African summit, President Afwerki discussed various issues, particularly those concerning Africa and the collaboration with Saudi Arabia, as well as internal reform matters.

Following is an excerpt of the interview Afwerki had with Asharq Al-Awsat:

Saudi relations with African nations are characterized as distinctive, and the Saudi-African summit is seen as the culmination of these ties, with you being one of the participants. What sets this summit apart?

What distinguishes the Saudi-African summit from other meetings and summits in various places and different eras is that it fosters a genuine strategic partnership between the African continent and Saudi Arabia.

Its significance lies in being held amidst complex regional and international conditions, highlighting Saudi Arabia’s abundant resources and opportunities across various dimensions.

This is juxtaposed with the immense natural wealth of African nations, coupled with a human population exceeding 1.2 billion, contributing to Africa’s resources, which account for 60% of the world’s total medical resources.

Why has the African continent not yet fully benefited from its vast human and natural resources?

Indeed, there is a constellation of challenges facing the African continent, as it remains marginalized by the Western world in comparison to its counterparts on other continents.

Additionally, much of Africa grapples with political instability, leading to economic uncertainty.

In this context, the Saudi-African summit presents a significant opportunity for genuine integration between the two parties.

It is imperative that the strategic partnership between them be comprehensive, as Saudi capabilities can uplift African capacities and its abundant resources.

This positive impact will reverberate across all continents.

Our understanding of this partnership should recognize its uniqueness in the midst of a new historical era marked by crises and challenges, post the Cold War and the era of a unipolar world.

With more than 30 years since the dominance of a unipolar era, we are now transitioning to a multipolar world order.

The time has come to explore the abundant opportunities offered by Africa’s vast economic potential and strategically invest in intelligent partnerships.

This is crucial for securing the future of the coming generations.

A proper understanding of this partnership involves carefully designing vital projects, accompanied by a roadmap encompassing plans and capacity development. Serious efforts are needed to translate these plans into reality.

What is the optimal approach to achieving the objectives of the strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia?

There is a pressing need to change the approach adopted by African nations and work towards eliminating political turmoil, fragility, and weakness prevalent in many countries, such as Niger, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Sudan, and countries in the Horn of Africa and its surroundings.

It is essential to reconcile their situations and awaken from dreams that do not benefit our people.

Combating corruption in all its forms, improving governance, and being vigilant about the dangers of foreign interventions are crucial steps.

It is also vital to address the vulnerabilities that some African leaders may expose to the Western world.

Only through these measures can we build a true strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, aspiring to transform African opportunities into investment projects that promote sustainable development for the region’s people.

What about collaborating with Saudi Arabia on securing the Red Sea and maritime passages?

The Saudi-Eritrean partnership is a comprehensive integrative strategy, guided by a serious developmental plan with specified timelines.

We aspire to strengthen and expand trade and investment relations, extending them to encompass the Horn of Africa region.

This expansion includes areas such as security and manufacturing industries. However, bilateral cooperation is not limited in scope.

In terms of securing and stabilizing the Red Sea as a vital international waterway, this is an integral component of our strategic partnership, distinguished by its geopolitical specificity.

It addresses security threats while retaining the sovereign capabilities of each Red Sea coastal country to secure its regional waters.

Coordination among these coastal nations is crucial to developing mechanisms for the security and stability of the Red Sea, protecting it from external interventions.

Should any coastal country need to leverage its external interests with another nation, it can do so through coordination, consultation, and collaboration among member states.

This collaboration aims to enhance investments in capacities, industries, energy, mining, tourism, modern technology, water, agriculture, health, education, fisheries, infrastructure, and green projects.

Do you not see potential challenges that might hinder such strategic partnerships?

Yes, despite the African continent’s abundance of food security resources globally, challenges have created a stark reality.

Enhancing project governance and working collaboratively to extricate ourselves from the swamp we’ve been trapped in for decades—marked by crises and destruction—hinders the realization of any strategic partnership with any party worldwide.

Closing gaps against Western nations exploiting our resources is a necessity.

I have discussed this matter with our West African colleagues, citing France’s exploitation of Niger’s resources, especially uranium used by Europe in nuclear and electrical energy facilities for over 50 years.

The Nigerien people have not benefited significantly due to political, economic, social, and cultural system flaws in Niger.

The reality is that we do not approach partnerships with any Western country like France unless they deal with us justly, ensuring our people receive the rightful returns from our resources.

Consider another example—Sudan, often referred to as the world’s breadbasket with diverse, countless resources, yet it still receives foreign aid.

I reiterate: we must rectify our internal political, security, economic, social, and cultural situations to benefit from any partnership with countries or continents.

The partnership with Saudi Arabia is an ideal opportunity to address our internal errors, leverage our resources and partnerships, and confront threats built on ethnic and racial concepts inflamed by forgery and manipulation of democracy, freedom, and civic participation concepts.

Media distortion and interference exploited by external forces to advance their agendas in our African countries must be countered.

Therefore, a realistic diagnosis of Africa’s problems is fundamental, with the imperative that our people acknowledge it.

Planning for absorption is crucial because every African economy is primitive, lacking transformative industries.

There’s an urgent need for education to enhance human resource efficiency, halt the migration exodus of our youth to Europe in the face of life-threatening challenges. Unless Africa resolves its problems decisively, there won’t be a fruitful partnership.

Iran's Ambassador to Asharq Al-Awsat: Ready to Cooperate with Saudi Arabia to Support Palestine

Iran's Ambassador to Riyadh Ali Reza Enayati (IRNA)
Iran's Ambassador to Riyadh Ali Reza Enayati (IRNA)

Iran's Ambassador to Asharq Al-Awsat: Ready to Cooperate with Saudi Arabia to Support Palestine

Iran's Ambassador to Riyadh Ali Reza Enayati (IRNA)
Iran's Ambassador to Riyadh Ali Reza Enayati (IRNA)

Iran is ready to cooperate with Saudi Arabia to support the Palestinian people, said Ambassador to Riyadh Ali Reza Enayati.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Enayati said Tehran supports any initiative or collective action to stop the aggression on the Gaza Strip, prevent the expansion of the unjust war against the defenseless Palestinian people, and halt more destruction and bloodshed.

He confirmed that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will participate on Sunday in the Extraordinary Islamic Summit called for by Saudi Arabia to discuss the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip and the tragic conditions of the Palestinians.

Raisi's visit to Saudi Arabia is the first by an Iranian President since the return of diplomatic relations between the two countries in March 2023, under the auspices of China.

The Ambassador asserted that Iran was ready for an influential role in formulating a unified position against the Israeli occupation and supporting the Palestinian people in cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the concerned parties, and regional and international organizations.

He pointed out that Iran participated in the meeting of foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah within the framework of Tehran's role in supporting the Palestinian cause.

According to diplomatic sources, the Iranian president plans to hold meetings with the Saudi leadership on the sidelines of his participation in the Extraordinary Islamic Summit.

The sources, who refused to be named, said the meetings have yet to be confirmed, but there are efforts to arrange that without giving further details.

In previous statements, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan confirmed that the Saudi-Iranian agreement to restore diplomatic relations confirmed the common desire of both sides "to resolve differences through communication and dialogue."

He stressed that it does not mean resolving all the "differences between the two countries."

Bin Farhan stressed that the most crucial requirement for opening a new page with Iran is a commitment to the agreement stipulated in the Saudi-Iranian-Chinese tripartite statement.

The Minister added that there was no doubt that the interest of the two countries and the region lies in activating paths of cooperation and coordination and focusing on development priorities in a way that leads to realizing the aspirations and hopes of both peoples and the young generations for a better future dominated by security, stability, and prosperity.

British Foreign Secretary to Asharq Al-Awsat: Serious Work Underway to Avoid Expansion of Gaza War

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat in Riyadh (Photo by: Bashir Saleh)
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat in Riyadh (Photo by: Bashir Saleh)

British Foreign Secretary to Asharq Al-Awsat: Serious Work Underway to Avoid Expansion of Gaza War

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat in Riyadh (Photo by: Bashir Saleh)
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly speaks to Asharq Al-Awsat in Riyadh (Photo by: Bashir Saleh)

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has stressed the importance of advancing the Arab initiative and the two-state solution as the Israel-Hamas war continues in the Gaza Strip.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Riyadh on Thursday, Cleverly emphasized serious work to prevent the war in Gaza from turning into a regional conflict.

Cleverly pointed to his meetings with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan, and his earlier talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, saying that all discussions revolved around trying to stop the war from spreading to neighboring countries.

He said he told his Iranian counterpart about the necessity for Iran to use its influence on Hezbollah, the Houthis and the militias in Iraq and Syria to refrain from exploiting the ongoing war in Gaza to create more violence in Iraq and the region.

Asked about the British position on the developments in Gaza, Cleverly stressed that his country respects and supports Israel’s right to defend itself.

He added that Britain wanted to see Israel safe and secure, and the Palestinian people safe. In this context, he noted that the best means to achieve this goal was the implementation of the two-state solution.

On the ways to invest in the strategic relationship between Saudi Arabia and Britain to help find a solution to the conflict, Cleverly said that he discussed with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Oslo Accords, as well as efforts to ensure that the killings of Oct. 7 and the loss of life in Gaza are not repeated.

According to the British diplomat, the UK believes that the best way to achieve this end is to work towards a peaceful two-state solution.

Asked to comment on a statement by an Israeli minister about throwing a nuclear bomb on Gaza, Cleverly underlined that such remarks were completely wrong and inappropriate. He said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately dismissed the minister as he did not agree to these comments.

The British diplomat noted that his recent talks with Arab officials touched on the Arab Peace Initiative. He added that the UK would work with its partners, the peace partners in the Palestinian leadership, Israel and the Arab world, to try to achieve peace in the region.

Cleverly went on to say that the only way to achieve peace is when Israel feels that it is no longer threatened by Gaza.

He stressed that it was unfortunate to see the Hamas leadership openly threatening to commit mass murder, as happened on Oct. 7.

The British diplomat highlighted the necessity to replace what he called aggressive and violent people in leadership with persons committed to peace.

Cleverly concluded by saying that his country was working seriously to prevent the war in Gaza from turning into a regional conflict.

Hossam Zaki to Asharq Al-Awsat: The Plan to Displace Palestinians will not be Successful

Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Hossam Zaki to Asharq Al-Awsat: The Plan to Displace Palestinians will not be Successful

Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The Arab League confirmed that an emergency summit, which will be held on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, will express a solid Arab position in support of Palestinian rights, and convey an Arab-Palestinian message to the world about the centrality of the political solution to the Palestinian cause.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the assistant secretary general of the Arab League, Ambassador Hossam Zaki, said that Arab foreign ministers will discuss on Thursday the draft resolution submitted by Palestine, and come up with a common stance.

The Arab diplomat stressed that western countries have “fallen morally in the current Gaza crisis,” adding that all talk of human rights and respect for them “has vanished when speaking about the Palestinian human being.”

Zaki considered that the positions of Moscow and Beijing were more rational than that of the West.

“Russia and China are friendly countries and have a much greater understanding of what is happening... This situation enables them to adopt better, more balanced and rational positions than the West. We do not say that they are with us one hundred percent, but they stand in much better positions,” he said.

Asked about his assessment of the US position on the Gaza crisis, the official said it is “a stance that is not positive, to say the least, and is very unfair towards the Palestinian situation and Palestinian rights.”

The official expressed an Arab determination to thwart any Israeli plans to forcibly displace Palestinians from their lands, noting that the Arab League will establish a mechanism to monitor Israeli genocide crimes and follow them up legally.

Regarding Arab perceptions of the future of the Gaza Strip, he said: “The Arabs refuse to talk about this matter before the ceasefire.”

Although “the Arab League is not a party to the ongoing ceasefire efforts,” according to Zaki, it “is actively following these endeavors...”

“The Israeli side is still rejecting the ceasefire, and is trying to barter the truce for the release of the hostages... There are Arab and other parties assuming roles in this effort.”

He also confirmed the presence of an Israeli plan to displace the Palestinians, saying: “Yes, we are convinced that Israel has this project, ambitions, and these ideas, but, God willing, we will thwart it completely.”

Zaki went on to say: “The Palestinian issue is not a security file, or a ‘war on terrorism’ issue... This is a complex issue with backgrounds and a history known to everyone, and the world must continue to view it as a political problem and deal with it on this basis.”

A few days before the emergency Arab summit hosted by Riyadh, the Arab League assistant secretary-general said that preparations were proceeding at an excellent pace.

He added that the Arab ministerial meeting will “discuss the draft resolution proposed by Palestine, which will include a set of elements that address the political situation.”

Hamas Official to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Briefed Russia on Causes Behind Oct. 7 Attack

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov with Hamas leaders Musa Abu Marzouk and Bassem Naim in Moscow (Reuters)
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov with Hamas leaders Musa Abu Marzouk and Bassem Naim in Moscow (Reuters)

Hamas Official to Asharq Al-Awsat: We Briefed Russia on Causes Behind Oct. 7 Attack

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov with Hamas leaders Musa Abu Marzouk and Bassem Naim in Moscow (Reuters)
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov with Hamas leaders Musa Abu Marzouk and Bassem Naim in Moscow (Reuters)

Hamas is ready to discuss a deal to release civilian prisoners, said politburo member Moussa Abu Marzouk.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Abu Marzouk praised Moscow's positions, saying that active Russian diplomacy "is working to put an end to Israeli crimes."

Abu Marzouk, leading the group's delegation during the Moscow visit, asserted that the Hamas movement appreciates the Russian just and humane position, especially that of President Vladimir Putin.

He lauded the Russian efforts and diplomacy in working to put an end to the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, adding that Russia is "a friendly country."

The delegation briefed Russian officials on the circumstances that led to the October 7 attack and presented the movement's vision of the current events and mechanisms for dealing with them.

They emphasized the right of the Palestinian people to resist the Israeli occupation.

- "The prisoners are our guests."

The Palestinian official said that since day one, Hamas presented its vision for the civilian prisoners, asserting that the group wants to release all civilian detainees and foreigners who do not hold Israeli citizenship.

During the interview, he said: "The prisoners are our guests" until the appropriate conditions are available for their release, asserting that the severe Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip complicates the process.

The prisoners' issue was also discussed in Moscow during the group's meetings with Russian officials, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry official.

Abu Marzouk explained that after the Israeli army's Gaza division fell, hundreds of citizens and dozens of fighters from various Palestinian factions entered the occupied territories and arrested dozens, most of them civilians.

He indicated that the group needs some time to search, classify them, and release them.

However, it can't be done because of the intense Israeli bombing, as the destructive force of the Israeli bombs that fell on Gaza during the 20 days is equivalent to the nuclear bomb that struck Hiroshima.

- A crushing defeat

The Hamas official hoped Russia and other countries would be successful in their efforts to stop the war, asserting that the Israeli threat to launch a ground invasion would fail.

The Israeli army was subjected to a crushing defeat, and its strongest military division fell within five hours by no more than 1,500 fighters aiming to expel the occupation, said the official.

He indicated that the Israeli enemy is mobilizing tens of thousands of soldiers with the support of the US and the West.

Abu Marzouk told Asharq Al-Awsat that Washington sent its largest aircraft carrier, with the second on its way, and has sent nearly two thousand soldiers from the special forces.

The Western countries are mobilizing forces in countries in the eastern Mediterranean, said the Hamas official, stressing that this Western-backed aggression is doomed to defeat and the morale of the resistance fighters is high.

- Russian role

Meanwhile, Hamas politburo member Hossam Badran said that Russia is capable of playing an essential role in ending the war and delivering aid to the Gaza Strip.

Badran said Hamas appreciates Russia's role at the international level, especially its use of veto power in response to the US position, which supports the occupation endlessly.

He stressed that Russia can play a more significant role in ending the aggression against the people in Gaza and exert international pressure to deliver urgent aid to the Strip.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Russia discussed, during a meeting with a leading Hamas delegation in Moscow, releasing foreign hostages and evacuating Russian citizens from the Gaza Strip.

The official Novosti news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying, "Contacts were held with him in continuation of the Russian line on the immediate release of foreign hostages in the Gaza Strip. Issues related to ensuring the evacuation of Russian and other foreign citizens from the territory of the Palestinian enclave were also discussed."

- Palestinian state

The meeting affirmed Russia's firm position in support of implementing the well-known resolutions issued by the international community, including the relevant Security Council resolutions, which stipulate the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders that includes its occupied territories with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Hamas delegation held talks behind closed doors with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, and Washington criticized the visit, saying it was not the time to provide support to Hamas.

Chinese Endeavor to Hold International Conference to Resume Peace Negotiations between Palestinians, Israel

China’s special envoy to the Middle East Zhai Jun
China’s special envoy to the Middle East Zhai Jun

Chinese Endeavor to Hold International Conference to Resume Peace Negotiations between Palestinians, Israel

China’s special envoy to the Middle East Zhai Jun
China’s special envoy to the Middle East Zhai Jun

China’s special envoy to the Middle East Zhai Jun revealed his country’s endeavor to mobilize international efforts to immediately stop the Israeli war on Gaza.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of his visit to Riyadh, the Chinese diplomat said that his talks with Saudi officials highlighted a convergence of views and a common desire to increase coordination and bilateral consultations toward stopping the Israeli attack on Gaza.

He added that he would also visit Jordan to rally efforts to achieve a ceasefire and calm the situation, stressing that the Palestinian people have equal rights to establish an independent state.

The Chinese official said that the only means to resolve the Palestinian issue lies in implementing the two-state solution and restoring the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people. He added that violence and counter-violence only lead to falling into a vicious circle and create more obstacles to the political solution.

Zhai Jun said that China calls for holding an international peace conference with more credibility, on a broader scale, and with greater effectiveness, to urgently push the Palestinian and Israeli sides to resume peace negotiations and set a detailed timetable and road map.

He noted that true and lasting peace and security for all in the Middle East region cannot be achieved except after finding a comprehensive and just solution to the Palestinian cause.

The Chinese official stressed that his country will continue to support the Palestinian people to restore their legitimate national rights and establish their independent state.

He went on to say that since the outbreak of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Chinese side has been making intense efforts to achieve a ceasefire and prevent more violence.

In this regard, he told Asharq Al-Awsat that a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, held several meetings and made extensive phone calls for this purpose with the foreign ministers and senior political figures of Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkiye, Russia, the United States, Brazil, Malaysia, and others.

A meeting was also held with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to shed light on China’s position and vision towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

According to Zhai Jun, China strongly condemns and opposes all actions that target civilians and violate international law, and calls for an immediate ceasefire, the protection of civilians, and the opening of humanitarian relief corridors, to ensure the arrival of living necessities to the residents of the Gaza Strip.

The Chinese official held the United Nations and the UN Security Council responsible for calming the situation as quickly as possible, stressing that the international community must act urgently and provide more humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. In the same context, he called for major powers to move to calm the situation and commit to objectivity and justice.

The Chinese diplomat stated that his country provided urgent humanitarian assistance through both the Palestinian National Authority and United Nations agencies, and will continue to deliver material assistance according to the needs of the residents of the Gaza Strip.

Italian Ambassador to Asharq Al-Awsat: Strategic Cooperation with Saudi Arabia is Growing in Light of Vision 2030

Italian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Roberto Cantone (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Italian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Roberto Cantone (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Italian Ambassador to Asharq Al-Awsat: Strategic Cooperation with Saudi Arabia is Growing in Light of Vision 2030

Italian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Roberto Cantone (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Italian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Roberto Cantone (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Future Investment Initiative (FII7) established a new road map for cooperation between Rome and Riyadh and enhanced the opportunities for strategic and dynamic ties, said Italy’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Roberto Cantone.

Over 70 Italian companies are investing in the Saudi market, especially in green energy, artificial intelligence, and technology sectors.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Cantone stressed that the FII7 became a leading global platform for exploring new trends, opportunities, challenges, and emerging industries that would shape the global economy and investment environment over the coming decades.

The FII7 Forum allowed Italian companies to discuss with their counterparts from investment groups and emerging companies in Riyadh.

According to Cantone, Italy’s high-level participation in the conference contributed to enriching discussions on pivotal long-term investment projects and global trends that shape future economies.

It also provided the opportunity to enhance cooperation between Rome and Riyadh in many areas, as identified by Vision 2030.

Cantone recalled that bilateral relations date back to the 1930s and have been expanded steadily over the years.

He indicated that the Kingdom currently witnesses steady growth in several areas of cooperation across various sectors, ranging between the latest technologies and their applications in the healthcare system, agriculture, space, cultural heritage, and preservation of antiquities.

Cantone reiterated that cooperation between Italy and the Kingdom is witnessing a strategic and dynamic development, as evident during the bilateral investment forum in Milan last September.

The forum highlighted the great potential to enhance cooperation between the two nations in various fields, including green energy, artificial intelligence, and technology, he said.

The latest trade exchange data shows bilateral trade relations between Italy and Saudi Arabia are witnessing upward growth, reaching $12 billion in 2022.

The first quarter of 2023 was also promising, as Italian exports to the Kingdom grew 24 percent.

The diplomat pointed out that Italian exports to the Kingdom include industrial machinery, electronic devices, communications devices, chemicals, pharmaceutical products, agricultural foods, fashion, design, cosmetics, and cars.

The total balance of Italian net foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia amounted to more than $4.6 billion, said Cantone, pointing out that the investment forum in Milan witnessed the signing of a memorandum to enhance direct investments between the two countries.

Cantone concluded by expressing his pleasure that Saudi companies, namely the Public Investment Fund (PIF), have become more interested in investing in strategic sectors of the Italian economy, saying it confirms the Kingdom’s confidence in the Italian business environment.

Malaysian Prime Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: Stopping War in Gaza is an Immediate Demand

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat (Photo by: Abdul Aziz Al-Zoman)
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat (Photo by: Abdul Aziz Al-Zoman)

Malaysian Prime Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: Stopping War in Gaza is an Immediate Demand

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat (Photo by: Abdul Aziz Al-Zoman)
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat (Photo by: Abdul Aziz Al-Zoman)

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim underlined the importance of the Arab and Islamic role led by Saudi Arabia to stop the ongoing war between the Israeli army and Palestinian factions.

Ibrahim called for mobilizing Islamic, Arab, regional and international efforts to facilitate the passage of humanitarian aid to Gaza. He pointed to his country’s firm position on the Palestinian issue and denounced Western duplicity by supporting the Israelis and disregarding the violations of civilians’ rights in the enclave.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of the ASEAN-GCC summit, which convened in Riyadh on Friday, the Malaysian premier said: “We took a very strong position together, with our brothers, friends, allies, and neighbors. We believe that we must all work together to stop this madness of the continued killing practiced by Israel in Palestine, specifically in the Gaza Strip, and which affects the lives of innocent people in hospitals and public places. This heinous act must end,” the minister stated.

“The international community must do everything in its power to guarantee peace. And I mean peace for all (...) but Gaza is now under siege, and people are struggling to live, there is no water, no electricity, no food and no medicine. The situation is truly tragic,” he added.

Arab Islamic efforts led by Saudi Arabia

Ibrahim pointed to coordinated security and cooperation conferences regarding the Arab Peace Initiative led by Saudi Arabia, where he said the foreign ministers presented clear views on humanitarian aid and the implementation of a ceasefire, placing the responsibility for stopping the war on the international community.

According to Ibrahim, Western countries, especially the United States, are ignoring the importance of achieving peace in the region, indicating that instead they are provoking countries to intervene, and this is something - in his opinion - dangerous and “may contribute to expanding that battle to other countries.”

The outcome of the summit

The Malaysian prime minister placed high hopes on the results of the ASEAN-GCC summit to enhance economic cooperation between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“We explored this new economic rebirth, and worked together to promote long-term business investments,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Prospects of partnership with Saudi Arabia

Asked about the Saudi-Malaysian relations, and the areas for future cooperation, Ibrahim emphasized the historic and traditional ties between his country and Saudi Arabia, noting that many Malaysian companies were currently participating in some major projects in Riyadh and NEOM and in different fields.

“The Kingdom, under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has now moved up development investments in an amazing way. So Malaysia, as you know, needs to maintain this bilateral cooperation,” he said.

He also expressed his country’s willingness to sign new partnerships with the Kingdom in different fields, including green technology.

Malaysia and the upcoming reform

When asked about his country’s internal situation, the Malaysian Prime Minister said: “Our country is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. For this reason, our national philosophy promotes a civil concept that takes into account all of this, which means that we will push work economically to the top.”

He added: “We will work to attract investments, and we will focus on education, research and new technology, including artificial intelligence, which I think the Saudis have done relatively well, but we will also focus on the issue of ethics and values of humanity.”

Indian Minister of Renewable Energy: We Seek Deeper Partnership with Saudi Arabia

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Minister of Energy, and his Indian counterpart, during the signing of the agreement between the two countries (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Minister of Energy, and his Indian counterpart, during the signing of the agreement between the two countries (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Indian Minister of Renewable Energy: We Seek Deeper Partnership with Saudi Arabia

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Minister of Energy, and his Indian counterpart, during the signing of the agreement between the two countries (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Minister of Energy, and his Indian counterpart, during the signing of the agreement between the two countries (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Indian Minister of Electricity and New and Renewable Energy Raj Kumar Singh said that his country was seeking to establish a deeper partnership with Saudi Arabia and to maximize bilateral projects, underlining New Delhi’s commitment to reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 45 percent by 2030.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of his participation in the Middle East and North Africa Climate Week (MENACW) 2023 in Riyadh, Singh said that Saudi Arabia was a reliable source of crude oil and India’s fourth-largest bilateral trading partner, noting that hydrocarbons accounted for about 68.6 percent of bilateral trade.

“Saudi Arabia plays an important role in India’s energy security, as is the second-largest exporter of crude oil to India after Iraq, and the fourth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas,” he said, expecting the “Climate Week” event to produce enabling factors and technologies to achieve comprehensive transformations.

According to the minister, the India-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council will create a multi-faceted and mutually beneficial strategy that includes cultural exchanges, defense and security cooperation, trade and investments, healthcare, technology, energy security and food security.

He added that the relations between Saudi Arabia and India are based on mutual respect, trust and cooperation, since independence.

“These relations gained further momentum with the visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Saudi Arabia in 2016 and 2019, and the visits of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, to India in 2019, where the India-Saudi Strategic Partnership Council was established, covering the entire scope of our bilateral relations,” Singh told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Economic, cultural and sports cooperation

The Indian minister went on to say that India was the second-largest trading partner for Saudi Arabia, while the Kingdom was India’s fourth-largest trading partner.

“Bilateral defense cooperation between the two countries has witnessed further progress this year, with engagements reaching their highest levels ever, demonstrating the strong interdependence and mutual trust between our two great countries,” he stated.

Singh continued: “Saudi Arabia has also become a favorite destination for Bollywood movies, while yoga and cricket are very popular in the Kingdom... The presence of more than 2.4 million strong Indian communities in the Kingdom is a living bridge between our two great countries.”

Cooperation in energy

The minister pointed out that Saudi Arabia plays an important role in his country’s energy security, being the second-largest exporter of crude oil to India, and the fourth-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas.

In this context, he said that he signed with his Saudi counterpart, Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, a historic memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the fields of electrical connectivity, clean green hydrogen, and supply chains.

“This memorandum of understanding aims to establish a general framework for cooperation between the two countries in the field of electrical interconnection during peak times and emergency situations, joint development of projects, joint production of clean green hydrogen and renewable energy, as well as the establishment of safe, reliable and flexible supply chains for materials used in clean green hydrogen,” he remarked.

Renewable energy in India

According to Singh, India, with its ambitious agenda, is leading the way in the energy transition and emerging as a global leader.

“We are aware of our responsibilities as an emerging economy, and have taken important measures to shift towards a low-carbon economy without compromising our growth and development,” he said, adding: “India is committed to aligning its energy transition efforts with the common goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.”

He stressed that his country has made great strides in enhancing power generation capacity from traditional fuels, establishing a unified national grid, strengthening the distribution network, encouraging renewable energy, expanding access to electricity and achieving full comprehensive household electrification, and implementing innovative policies.

Hydrogen, a pivotal source of clean energy

Raj Kumar Singh said that green hydrogen will play a crucial role in decarbonizing industrial sectors, along with renewable energy sources.

“India took the lead and recently launched the Green Hydrogen Mission with the ambitious goal of achieving 5 million metric tons of green hydrogen production annually by 2030,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.