Singapore’s Foreign Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: Russian-Ukrainian Crisis Threatens World Order

 Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan
Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore’s Foreign Minister to Asharq Al-Awsat: Russian-Ukrainian Crisis Threatens World Order

 Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan
Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that the Russian attack on Ukraine was a “great threat to the world order,” warning at the same time against the US-Chinese tension over Taiwan.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Balakrishnan stressed that the continuation of the Russian attack on Ukraine constituted a major threat to the world order and a blatant violation of international law.

The invasion sets a dangerous precedent that undermines the security and existence of many countries, especially small countries like Singapore, the minister emphasized.

Ukraine Crisis

On the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis on the economic, financial and food situation in the world and Singapore in particular, the minister said that the war would harm supply chains and obstruct post-pandemic economic recovery efforts.

“It is of great concern to countries in Asia, where stable and resilient supply chains are critical to ensuring the continued flow of essential goods, such as food and medical supplies,” Balakrishnan said, stressing the need for countries to work together to ensure that international trade remains smooth, predictable, open and reliable.

Tension between Beijing and Washington

Balakrishnan warned against the deepening division between the United States and China, and the risk of a real and growing mishap or miscalculation between the two countries.

He underlined the need for the two leaderships to maintain communication, especially at the highest level, in order to reach a temporary settlement and to prevent war.

Stable relations between the United States and China are vital to regional and international peace and prosperity, he remarked.

Relations with Saudi Arabia

The foreign minister said that Singaporean-Saudi relations were accelerating towards digital and technological integration, including the expansion of cooperation in many fields, including trade, investment, and education.

The Kingdom is Singapore’s second largest trading partner in the Middle East, as bilateral trade exceeded $6.8 billion in 2021, the minister told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Balakrishnan praised Saudi Arabia’s rapid and dynamic development within the framework of the ambitious Vision 2030 agenda.

In this regard, the minister pointed to the launch of the Saudi-Singapore Joint Committee (SSJC) in December 2021, which he said constituted a major cooperation platform in the fields of transport, logistics, digital economy and energy.

He added that the committee would seek to face future challenges posed by the climate change, with Saudi Arabia adopting the goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2060 and Singapore by 2050.

“With the launch of digital finance in both Singapore and Saudi Arabia, we are discussing a memorandum of cooperation to strengthen partnership in the areas of digital economy, emerging technologies and e-government, which will be signed soon,” the minister revealed.

He added that his country was pleased that Saudi Arabia has adopted the Smart Industry Readiness Index (SIRI) developed by Singapore, highlighting “the aspects of integration between our national strategy for artificial intelligence, and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”

Balakrishnan also told Asharq Al-Awsat that his country was keen to strengthen cooperation with Saudi Arabia in artificial intelligence, including digitally enabled services and smart cities.

“We also look forward to strong cooperation in the field of cyber-security,” he emphasized.

The Joint Committee: A platform for cooperation between the two countries

The minister of Foreign Affairs of Singapore said that the Saudi-Singapore Joint Committee (SSJC) was vital platform to discuss concrete projects and strengthen economic ties across a variety of sectors.

The idea of the committee was raised by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, during the state visit of President Halimah Yacob to Riyadh in November 2019.

The minister announced that his country would host the second session of the SSJC later this year, hoping to expand cooperation to include vital sectors such as green economy and digital fields, in addition to tackling emerging challenges, opportunities for cooperation and contribution to development goals, and attracting Saudi companies to benefit from Singapore as a gateway to Asia.

Energy cooperation

Balakrishnan highlighted his country’s keenness to expand energy cooperation with Riyadh, stressing that the Kingdom was a global power and a key player in the energy sector.

“In December 2021, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in the energy sector for cooperation in areas such as energy efficiency and conservation, as well as building capacity in low-carbon technologies, such as hydrogen and carbon capture, use and storage,” he stated.

The Minister indicated that both Saudi Arabia and Singapore were aware of the importance of collective action within the international community, to address climate change and improve sustainability.

He noted in this regard that the two countries joined the Global Methane Pledge - which seeks to collectively reduce global methane emissions across all sectors by at least 30 percent by 2030 – during their participation in the 26-COP conference in Glasgow in November 2021.

Saudi Deputy Minister of Hajj: Full Return of Pilgrim Numbers to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdulfattah Mashat (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdulfattah Mashat (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Deputy Minister of Hajj: Full Return of Pilgrim Numbers to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdulfattah Mashat (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdulfattah Mashat (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah Abdulfattah Mashat affirmed that the ministry has used the same process as before the coronavirus pandemic to decide how many pilgrims will be allowed from each country.

The goal is to bring back the number of pilgrims to what it was before the pandemic. He also stressed that this season is special and that all the necessary services are ready at the holy sites.

Mashat, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, confirmed the existence of precautionary plans to handle any health or organizational emergencies that might occur this Hajj season.

These plans are a part of Saudi Arabia’s ability to manage crowds and handle important information.

The deputy minister also disclosed that relevant authorities in the Kingdom have received many requests to participate in the “Makkah Route Initiative,” and these requests are currently under review by the Interior Ministry.

Regarding company classification, Mashat stated that this year, the categorization of service providers will be based on customer satisfaction using evaluation forms that have been developed on one of the important post-Hajj platforms.

He pointed out that opportunities have been given to several leading hospitality companies to offer their competitive services.

Mashat emphasized that companies that fall short will be held accountable, and that there are mechanisms in place to compensate pilgrims for any shortcomings they may experience.

The deputy minister asserted that this year’s Hajj season is different.

Early readiness was ensured for all services, as well as integration, coordination, and harmony among all the plans of the participating entities in the Hajj process.

According to Mashat, there is significant collaboration between the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and all relevant authorities, working together to develop a coordinated working plan through the bureau of operational follow-up and the Central Hajj Committee.

The Committee is responsible for continuous monitoring of all Hajj-related operational activities.

Mashat clarified that early preparation is a crucial part of the organization process, in line with the Ministry of Hajj's strategy. This was evident in the various services offered to both domestic and international pilgrims.

Domestic pilgrims had access to all packages through a local platform, while international pilgrims from Europe, America, Australia, and Canada were able to access the “Nusuk Hajj” platform online in advance.

Mashat also described the Nusuk Hajj platform as one of the most important programs aimed at pilgrims from Europe, America, and Australia. Launched several months ago, the platform has facilitated the issuance of over 20,000 visas for prospect pilgrims.

In a conversation about what sets apart the Hajj season 2023 from previous years, Mashat emphasized a remarkable highlight: the triumphant comeback of pilgrim numbers to their pre-pandemic levels.

While the deputy minister did not directly disclose the exact number, statistics from the General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) estimate that the number of pilgrims in the year 2019 exceeded 2.4 million.

At that time, the number of domestic pilgrims was approximately 634,000, including around 211,000 Saudi pilgrims and about 423,000 residents of the Kingdom with valid permits.

Regarding the Makkah Route Initiative and its significance, Mashat said: “We have received numerous requests from several countries to join the initiative, and the specialized committee, led by the Ministry of Interior, is thoroughly studying all of these requests.”

Mashat also discussed epidemics and how to deal with them.

“With the end of the (coronavirus) pandemic, there are proactive and preventive precautionary plans in place to handle any health or organizational emergencies that may arise during this season,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Mashat stressed that Saudi Arabia’s extensive experience has led to the creation of exceptional crowd management models.

The Kingdom has the ability to tackle any scenario, making its approach unparalleled worldwide.

UN Envoy Says Syria at ‘Critical Time,’ Needs to Act

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. AFP
The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. AFP

UN Envoy Says Syria at ‘Critical Time,’ Needs to Act

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. AFP
The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen. AFP

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen has lauded the Arab initiative on Damascus, stressing the importance of taking it into consideration along with the Moscow track and the American and European stances to move forward in finding a political solution in Syria.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Pedersen said that we are “at a very critical time,” adding that Damascus should use this opportunity to move towards a settlement.


Here is the full text of the interview:


The Arab summit will be held in Jeddah with President Bashar Assad attending for the first time since the Arab Summit in Libya in 2010. What does it mean to the UN Special Envoy to see this?

Let me start by reminding that we have now been searching for a political solution to the crisis in Syria for 12 years. We know the problems are extremely deep and that there is no easy solution, but at the same time we also know that there is a sort of an agreed international consensus that Security Council resolution 2254 should serve as a basis for finding a political solution to the crisis.

We also know that despite the fact that we have had this agreement on 2254, the political process has not really been able to deliver, let’s be frank and honest about this. We know there is obviously no short cut for a political solution to this crisis but at the same time we should welcome renewed diplomatic attention to Syria and we are seeing when it comes to the Arabs, there has been important initiatives. We saw the meeting between the four Arab foreign ministers and (Syrian) Foreign Minister (Faisal) Mikdad in Amman on May 1 and then we are seeing lots of different meetings in Moscow and the last meeting was at the foreign ministers level between the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks and the Syrian foreign ministers. Prior to that we saw meetings on Ministers of Defense levels. There are things happening, but of course what is important to remember is that after 12 years of war and conflict, we had an additional dimension with the tragedy of the earthquakes and the reality is that the situation on the ground in Syria has not changed. We are seeing a lot of important diplomatic symbolic moves but this has so far not led to any real changes for the Syrian people on the ground. And this I believe is the chance that we all need to address together.

Let me just emphasize that obviously and I said from day one that if we are to find a solution to this crisis, we need the cooperation of all actors. We need the Syrian parties, the Astana players, the Arabs and the US and Europe also to be part of this. But now the reality is that a comprehensive solution to this crisis is not possible for now. That of course should not prevent us from trying and more time. What I see increasingly is that despite this fact, status quo is not acceptable so we need to find a way to move forward. I do believe that what we see among our Arab friends and from the meetings in Moscow is indeed that there is an agreement that status quo is not acceptable. The good news here is that the Americans and the Europeans I am talking to also agree on that, so we have the consensus. Then the question becomes what does this actually mean?

All these diplomatic moves as you said in Moscow, between the Syrians and the Iranians, between the Arabs and Damascus, do they make your mandate to achieve 2254 easier?

My hope is indeed it will lead to build some confidence and build on that confidence to be able to see concrete steps being taken in Syria that can be the beginning of implementing 2254. As you know, I have suggested what I call ‘step-for-step’ approach. Based on the understanding I just explained, I have been engaging my Arab friends, the Astana players but most importantly of course the government of Damascus on this. What we are trying to do is to agree on what we call concrete mutual and reciprocal steps that could be taken to try to unlock progress and to move the political process forward. These steps, and this is extremely important, must be very viable and implemented in parallel. Obviously, the reason we want to do this is to try to build confidence and see if we can change the realities on the ground. I highlighted few issues that should be part of such process.

Give us some examples.

Obviously we all know that the file of abductees and missing persons is extremely important and then the file of building conditions for safe dignified return of refugees is of course very important and if we are discussing that, overall we need to address protection issue, to discuss conscription, housing, land and property issues and what I call signal documentation. We also need to put on the table how we can restore socio-economic conditions and this issue became even more important after the earthquakes and part of this means addressing the issue of sanctions. Obviously, what it takes to deliver is all parties participate and put the issues on the table. Here frankly speaking from the dialogues we had so far, I see there are some overlap between the different initiatives, there are complimentary things that we could be doing and there are of course also some differences which should be no surprise to anyone.

I do believe that what we have seen in Moscow and with the Arab initiative that all of this could be a ‘circuit breaker’, the beginning of a possible development and I also said that it is extremely important that the government in Damascus uses this opportunity to engage and that is of course if what we need to see this process move forward.

As you mentioned, ‘step for step’ is sort of a part of the political and diplomatic initiative and this approach has been mentioned in Amman statement, do you think that those initiatives are really willing to engage seriously with this ‘step for step’ approach or just a lip service?

I have a good dialogue with the Arab foreign ministers, I also have with foreign minister Mikdad. I think they all understand very clearly what the key challenges are when it comes to solving the Syrian conflict. The reality on the ground is still there, it is a deeply divided country, there are different entities still controlling different parts of Syria, we have an economic and humanitarian crisis and there are still the challenges of terrorism. I know of course from our friends the issue of the Captagon, all these issues are complex and it need proper understanding and proper engagements. We can work together on this, and I am hearing very positive messages from the Arab foreign ministers about their intentions to work closely with me and the UN to address these issues and after the Arab summit I am looking forward to how to develop this further.

The same of course goes for the Astana players. I am still in close contact with Russia, Iran and Türkiye and there are also overlaps between what they are discussing, what the Arabs are discussing and what we are discussing. It is important that we continue to coordinate, we share information and based on this and the understanding that no one actor can solve the crisis alone. We need all actors to be part of this, to participate. This goes for the Arabs, for the Turks, Iranians, Russians, Americans and Europeans. I see my role as being able to contribute in one way or another to bring different parties to share, to put on the table something that can move the process forward and help change the reality on the ground in Syria.

Is it true that there is a timetable that some Arab countries are expecting Damascus to take certain steps on certain issues?

Let me not talk on behalf of my Arab friends, you have to ask them about how precisely they want to move forward. We had very good discussions so far and hope to continue to deepen the dialogue and have a follow up that would enhance and strengthen the different initiatives launched.

None of us are to have any illusions that this is easy. It will take a lot of hard work but hopefully the reality on the ground, the enormous needs in Syria that have been there for a long time now but even bigger after the earthquake, that it is more important than ever that we come together and see if there is a serious interest in moving forward in a manner that is reciprocal and is very viable and can have in parallel.

There is a gap at least for now, we see Arab normalization with Damascus and the Syrian government and at the same time the western countries, the Americans and specially the Congress are moving in a different direction, trying to impose and tighten the sanctions on Syria. As UN special envoy for Syria, does this make your mission easier or more difficult?

You are absolutely right, there is still a deep division in the international community when it comes to Syria. There is no doubt about it. You are right that we are seeing lately a renewed debate brought in Washington and European capitals on how to continue engaging in this process. My impression is that they all understand and all support the concept of the ‘step for step’ process. If we can see that Damascus now really engages in this process, this will give us a renewed opportunity to move this process. A ‘step for step’ process means that all parties deliver something concrete so that we can move forward.

A source mentioned that the approach is that we offer Damascus incentives and Damascus has to offer something in return, in terms of Captagon, the return of refugees, political process and we need to see concrete steps in the upcoming four to six months. If there is no response, then the western countries will be even tougher on Damascus than now.

The western countries should answer you directly. For me, the situation is we have now had 12 years of war and conflict, things need to change and we are seeing an initiative from the Arabs, the Turks, the Astana format, this creates a real opportunity to move the process forward. We now need to see Damascus respond positively to this. If this is not happening, the reality is that the economic and social situation in Syria will continue to deteriorate and the call for political solution will be further diminished and it will be a disaster for all of us. We are indeed at a very critical time.

I notice that I am hearing positive statements from the Arabs when it comes to have new meetings for the Constitution Committee. In Amman they stated that it is important for the Constitution Committee to meet as soon as possible. I am hearing the same from the Astana players. One easy first step should be to reconvene the Constitution Committee in Geneva. That is really one first small step that should be taken. Then it will be possible for me to follow along with the follow up committee from the Arab League and discuss precisely how to move forward, in the same manner as I am having concrete discussions with Türkiye, Iran and Russia and indeed with Americans and Europeans.

This is the unique role of the United Nations, I can talk to everyone and I can bring something to the table that no one else can bring.

Some people are saying that actually the Moscow quadruple track - Iran, Russia, Syria, Türkiye - is a substitute for Astana process and that the Arab track with Damascus is a substitute for Geneva process. Some people are saying that the big victim out of these processes is the UN sponsored process, whether it is the Constitution Committee or 2254. What is your response to this?

These processes have a potential: The Arab initiative, the Moscow track. If it starts delivering, then nothing will be better and I could see that as a support to what we are trying to achieve which is to move the situation in Syria forward in a manner that we can start to see what I call a safe home and neutral environment emerging that will enable us to move forward also on the political process. As I said, all of these initiatives are important but if we really want to see a move forward, we need to have a comprehensive view both on what it requires to change when it comes to Syria, what it requires of international engagement to move forward in Syria and none of this will be easy, but there is now an opening, a possibility but this possibility must be grasped by the government in Damascus.

For you as UN special envoy what are the next steps that you are going to work on?

We are now studying very carefully what is happening on the Moscow track, the Arab initiative, the situation after the earthquake, UN coordination, and based on all this, I have been active lately in my engagement with different key interlocutors. We will try to make sure that we develop this in a manner that can enhance the possibilities of success with the Syrian parties, with the Arabs, with Moscow, with Washington and with the Europeans. It is a huge challenge but without all being interactive together the process will stall. My job is to try to prevent that of happening. So far, the messages I am receiving in particular from my Arab friends are promising.

Until now we have not seen big progress, big change on the ground, what will you tell the Syrian citizens whether they are in Damascus, Idlib, Qamishli, in Lebanon, Jordan, Frankfurt, Paris, London... How can you convince them that actually what we are seeing now will contribute to improving their situation?

After 12 years of war and conflict, the political process so far has not delivered. I understand there is a lot of skepticism and cynicism towards the possibility of seeing a real change. What we are seeing now are important symbolic political moves, but nothing has changed when it comes to the situation on the ground in Syria. What my team and I revert together with all the UN colleagues to try to achieve is that we will see a beginning of a change to this. We will see that reality on the ground is changing and if that is not happening, we are risking continued years of war and conflict, a deterioration of the economic and social foundations in Syria. People are deprived of even hope to see these necessary changes that we need to see if Syria is to return to a situation where people can live in a situation that is safe and calm, and those refugees who want to return can return to their homes and those who are displaced can return to their homes. There needs to be a healing in the Syrian society and I notice from the Arab friends that there is talk about the need for a national reconciliation. Let us hope that this can be the beginning of something new. Are we guaranteed success? Absolutely not. But we should welcome that people are trying to do something. As I said, status quo should not be acceptable.

Some of the political opposition feel that they are abandoned, are they right in this feeling?

The reality is of course that we are seeing a lot of diplomatic moves. If these moves lead to changes on the ground in a manner that will move the process forward, I am sure then it will be welcomed by everyone and this is what we need to see. As I said, I understand the skepticism and even the cynicism to whether this is possible or not. How the opposition sees this, I think you should ask them directly.

In January 2014 there was Montreux conference sponsored by the UN to implement Geneva communique, in December 2015 there was another conference in Vienna which led to 2254. Now in 2023 are we going to see something similar like a big conference in your presence to discuss a political solution in Syria?

How practical what will happen it is too early to say, but your point is a good point and it is what I have tried to reinforce through my discussion with you today and that it is for this to move forward one way or the other. All these different initiatives need to come together. I need to make sure that I have all the key actors on board, obviously the Syrian parties, the Astana players, the Arabs, the Americans and the Europeans. I can reassure you that I will do my utmost so that we will be able to move along those lines.

President of Djibouti: Challenges are Great, Jeddah Summit Strengthens Arab Action

Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti
Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti

President of Djibouti: Challenges are Great, Jeddah Summit Strengthens Arab Action

Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti
Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti

While all eyes will turn to Jeddah on Friday, when the Arab Summit will convene amid complex geopolitical conditions and multiple Arab crises, topped by the armed conflict in Sudan, Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti stressed that the Arab peoples were counting on the summit to come out with decisions that contain the crises and strengthen joint Arab action.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Guelleh said that the Arab Summit was being held in light of multiple and complex geopolitical changes and critical circumstances in some Arab countries.

“The most important thorny files in the Arab world will top the agenda of the summit, as well as the various geopolitical developments in the region,” he stated.

Emphasizing the centrality of Saudi Arabia in strengthening the Arab decision and unifying the ranks, the president of Djibouti noted that challenges in the Arab world were many and complex.

“Many of the brotherly countries are going through critical conditions, such as Sudan, which is witnessing a very deteriorating and dangerous situation, as well as Yemen”, he said, expressing “great optimism” for the Saudi efforts to solve the crisis, put an end to the suffering of the Yemenis, and restore security and stability in the country.

Guelleh also pointed to the continuous Israeli violations of Islamic and Christian sanctities in occupied Jerusalem, denouncing “the Israeli occupation police storming and desecrating the Gate of Mercy chapel, which is an integral part of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as raising the Israeli occupation flag on the roof and walls of the Ibrahimi Mosque in the city of Hebron.”

“This is a flagrant violation of international law, the Geneva Conventions, and the resolutions of international legitimacy, and a provocation to the feelings of the Islamic nation”, the president underlined.

He added: “We hope that the current Arab summit will come out with recommendations and decisions that would contribute to resolving the crisis and the critical conditions that the Arab world is going through.”

Asked about the means to address the Sudanese file, as Djibouti is member of IGAD, Guelleh said that his country was following with great concern the developments in Sudan.

The president stressed that the IGAD group has put forward a mediation initiative to resolve the crisis, and assigned the presidents of Djibouti, Kenya and South Sudan to go to Sudan. But he added that the movement of the three presidents towards Khartoum depended on a cease-fire and the commitment to the truce.

“We are ready to start effective mediation, and we hope that the IGAD initiative will contribute to finding an urgent solution to the worsening crisis since mid-April. We also salute the current mediation by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States in the Jeddah Dialogue to reach a cease-fire,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Commenting on Syria’s return to the Arab League, the president of Djibouti expressed his country’s commitment to a political solution in Syria that meets the aspirations of the people and ends their sufferings.

“Based on this, we welcome the progress towards ending the Syrian crisis, which lifts the political isolation of brotherly Syria, ends the suffering of its dear people, and fulfills their aspirations for security, stability, development and prosperity,” he stated.

Commenting on global geopolitical changes and the formation of new blocs, Guelleh said that the Arab world cannot be isolated from these developments.

“It is normal for any Arab country to cooperate with any bloc... if it sees its interest, in a manner that does not contradict joint Arab action and the constants of the international community”, he stated.

Guelleh added that his country welcomed any US-Chinese competition in Africa that falls in the interest of development.

Touching on the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing, the president of Djibouti warned that the negative effects of the war were not limited to a specific geographical area, but cast a shadow over the entire world and impeded economic growth.

He said in this regard: “We renew our support for international efforts aimed at ending the crisis politically, and we also hope that the parties to the conflict will accept negotiation.”

As for the recent agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran on the revival of bilateral ties, Guelleh expressed his belief that it would reflect positively on the development of the two countries, as well as the region as a whole.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Any rapprochement and cooperation between two countries of the weight and size of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran will undoubtedly contribute to laying the foundations for stability and development in the entire region, and will enhance joint Islamic action.”

Guelleh stressed that Saudi Arabia has always supported Djibouti’s development on various levels, pointing to the presence of several joint committees that seek to promote economic, security and military cooperation between the two countries.

“Based on the tremendous development that we have achieved during the past two decades in the field of ports in terms of quantity and quality, we look forward to strengthening cooperation between the two brotherly countries in the field of maritime transport, logistics services and ports”, he remarked.

He added that work was underway to launch joint projects in the field of sea and air transport, and to establish a free zone and warehouses dedicated for Saudi exports and products within the international free trade zone in Djibouti.


Sudan, Palestine at the Top of Jeddah Summit Files

Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League
Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League

Sudan, Palestine at the Top of Jeddah Summit Files

Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League
Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League

With the ongoing preparations for the Arab League summit in Jeddah on Friday, Ambassador Hossam Zaki, Assistant Secretary-General of the Arab League, spoke with great optimism about what he described as a “summit of renewal and change.”

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Zaki noted that the Arab foreign ministers would convene on Wednesday to put the final touches on the agenda, saying: “Everything will be ready before the summit for approval, and we will move forward with the Arab action, under the presidency of Saudi Arabia, as of May 19.”

Saudi efforts

The assistant secretary-general of the Arab League asserted that the Saudi presidency of the Arab Summit would provide a great impetus for the Arabs.

“Saudi Arabia is witnessing good and promising diplomatic and political movement, and its presidency of the Arab summit will be active and keen on Arab interests,” he stated.

The Jeddah Summit files

The Sudanese file will top the agenda of the Jeddah summit, according to Zaki, who expressed hope that efforts to stop the armed clash would be crowned with success.

“We have all followed the Saudi-American effort that culminated in reaching a truce, but we hope for more arduous work to establish a permanent cease-fire,” he said, pointing to the creation of an Arab contact group, which includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Arab League secretary-general.

“We expect the committee to meet at the level of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the summit, to discuss the means to move forward to achieve this goal,” he added.

In addition to Sudan, Zaki said that the Palestinian file would also be among the Arab officials’ priorities.

He emphasized other important topics, including the relations that have begun to take a new shape between the Arab states on the one hand, and some regional countries, including Iran and Türkiye, on the other.

Syria’s return to the Arab League

Zaki called for considering the return of Syria to the Arab League as the beginning of a new phase in dealing with the situation in the country.

He said: “Over the course of 12 years, the Arab League dealt with the Syrian crisis based on the fact that the government in Damascus suspended its participation in all the activities of the League. Now this stage is over.”

According to the assistant secretary-general, all countries had the impression that the Arab League was completely absent from any endeavors to help Syria rise from its crisis, and to find a political solution that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.

“The Arab side discovered that the international community, perhaps due to successive events, has begun to give less priority to the Syrian file. Of course, many things have happened, including the Ukraine war and others. This has caused the repercussions of the Syrian crisis to largely affect neighboring countries, in terms of drug trade, terrorism and refugees. Those are very pressing issues in the states neighboring Syria and other Arab countries,” the ambassador remarked.

Zaki expressed hope that the newly-established mechanism and the Arab committee that was recently formed to follow up on the Syrian file would open a new chapter in the Arab dealing with Syria and help the Syrian people overcome their crises.

Relations with Iran

According to the senior diplomat, the Arab League sees the Saudi-Iranian agreement as positive and may contribute to stability in the region if Iran’s intentions are sincere.

He continued: “If intentions are sincere and commitments are implemented, we hope that this region will witness some improvement in the relationship between the Arab countries on the one hand, and Iran on the other.”

Zaki noted that relations between the Arab world and Iran in recent history were “full of negative interference.”

“But we want to open a new page, and this agreement is like a new chapter. If intentions are sincere, we can achieve a lot for the sake of the peoples of the region,” he stated.

The role of the Arab League and its reform

Zaki tried to differentiate between repeated criticisms of the Arab League performance and calls for reform, saying that the two matters were separate.

“With regard to the presence of the Arab League in Arab files and crises, we have tried and are trying as much as possible for the flag of the Arab League to be present in all forums, and for it to have an opinion and contribution to any Arab crisis or problem,” he underlined.

The senior diplomat explained: “But how can you deal with a crisis that has been thrown at the door of the Security Council, and then say that the League has not assumed its role! If the issue was brought up to the Security Council, what can the Arab League do about it? ... This is unfair.”

The assistant secretary-general said that calls for reform were “intended, to a large extent, to obstruct” the work of the Arab League.

“But tell me about the countries that do not pay their dues and contributions to the League (we do not want to name them). Does this matter fall in the interest of the Arab League or not? Does this enable it to perform the roles entrusted to it? The word reform is beautiful, sounds nice and it is used in many forums, but tell me what is the problem that we want to deal with and I will tell you whether it deserves reform or not,” Zaki stated.

He cited an example, saying that before 2005, the Arab League was constantly criticized for not voting on decisions and contenting itself with consensus.

“The Arab League adopted the voting system since 2005, that is, 18 years ago, but this system was not used once,” he remarked.

Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Poison Ring from Baghdad to London Kills Target, Handler

Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Poison Ring from Baghdad to London Kills Target, Handler

Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Poison Ring from Baghdad to London Kills Target, Handler

Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Poison Ring from Baghdad to London Kills Target, Handler

The imprisonment of Salem Al-Jomaili, director of the US branch of the Iraqi intelligence agency under Saddam Hussein, alongside high-ranking officials of the Iraqi regime in Camp Cropper following the US invasion, was marked by a sense of disbelief and astonishment.

Many believed that Saddam could have resorted to a suicide belt or a last bullet and had the audacity to issue an order to his associates to kill him before being captured by American soldiers.

While initially met with skepticism, the news was eventually confirmed, and the detainees in the prison did not hesitate to acknowledge the bravery of the man who had faced danger head-on. Some even speculated that Saddam may have intended to use his appearance in court to put the invasion and its allies on trial.

Subsequently, the US military permitted leaders of Saddam’s opponents to pay a visit to him while he was incarcerated.

However, two notable opponents of the former dictator declined the offer: Masoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who believed that “taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune is unbecoming of a man” and candidly admitted that it was the US forces, not the opposition, who brought about the downfall of Saddam's regime.

The other adversary was Ayad Allawi, the Prime Minister after the regime’s collapse, who still bore the wounds inflicted by Saddam's ax-wielding henchmen in London.

Allawi could not bear the thought of seeing the ex-Iraqi leader behind bars under US custody.

In the final excerpt of a five-part interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Jomaili revealed that Iran had facilitated the US invasion of Iraq.

Through Ahmed Chalabi, Iran entered into agreements with the US that would facilitate their mission in exchange for the return of Iraqi opposition members that Iran was hosting.

Tehran also released a series of misleading information through Chalabi to justify the invasion and seized part of the Iraqi archives.

Under the agreements, Iran allowed US aircraft to use the border strip and adjacent airspace of Iraq for military purposes. The US intelligence agencies were unable to deliver weapons to Jalal Talabani in Sulaymaniyah because they had to pass through the airspace of Turkey, Syria, or Iran.

Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani then personally delivered the weapons to Talabani.

During those times, Soleimani did not play a significant role, and the Revolutionary Guard's interventions were feeble, only extending to southern Lebanon and not visibly in Syria or Yemen.

According to Jomaili, Iranian influence only began to emerge after the collapse of the Iraqi regime.

“We foresaw this and communicated to the Americans in an effort to avert war. We warned them that they would be providing a gateway for Iran to infiltrate the region. However, they did not express any concern on the matter, and the outcome unfolded as we had predicted,” said Jomaili.


The Iranian Revenge


The retaliation of the Iranians against the intelligence apparatus was horrifying, with executions carried out through their agents. At least 50 officers were killed, including 14 in a single attack on their residences.

Jomaili revealed that the Iranians had also assassinated pilots and bombed targets in Iran during the Iraq-Iran war. The level of revenge even extended to exhuming the graves of officers who had been martyred in the war.

While Iranian agencies facilitated the invasion of Iraq, they also took actions in another direction.

Prior to the invasion, these agencies facilitated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s passage through Iranian territories to Iraq after he left Afghanistan. The presence of the Al-Qaeda leadership in Iran was already known, as evidenced by Israel’s assassination of one of its members there.

When asked about Saddam’s relations with Kurdish leaders in Iraq, which were difficult and fraught with confrontations, agreements, and ceasefires, Jomaili began to recount the details of those ties.

He recalled a communication channel existing between Saddam and Talabani that was managed by an Iraqi intelligence officer with the rank of director.

When members of Al-Qaeda infiltrated Iraq from Afghanistan through Iran in 2001, Talabani was concerned about their cooperation with the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam. The group attacked fighters from the Kurdistan National Union and killed 40 of them, so Talabani requested military and financial assistance from Baghdad, which was provided.

Talabani responded with a message to Saddam thanking him and pledging that the weapons will not be used against the people of Iraq.


Resignation Means Death


The intelligence agency is not a political party that one can belong to, learn its secrets, and then leave peacefully, reminded Jomaili.

When an officer decides to defect, they are practically signing their own death warrant, he explained, adding that the agency does not spare defectors and would hunt them down.

Men with fake names and sometimes diplomatic passports will pursue their former colleague to execute them.

As the director of the intelligence agency, Barzan al-Tikriti created a publishing and printing institution in London as a front for intelligence work. He appointed a highly skilled individual from the state agencies to oversee it.

Choosing to stay in London, the operative firmly declined to return to Baghdad when his mission ended in 1986.

A team of three, including acquaintances of the target, was sent by the intelligence agency to London to assassinate the operative, who was unsuspecting of their intentions.

The team proposed a meeting at a restaurant, where one member slipped a deadly substance, which was hidden in a ring, into the target’s drink.

The target died from the poison, and the intelligence officer who handled the fatal substance also died soon after. The fate of the second team member is unknown after the Kuwait invasion, while the third died outside Iraq in 2020.


Deadly Appointment in Stockholm


The intelligence agency had target hunters, affirmed Jomaili.

At one instance, a female proxy traveled with an intelligence officer. She was placed in the path of a targeted man who hastened to swallow the bait. She took him to an apartment where her colleague officer was present.

The man was surprised by the presence of the operations officer whom he personally knew and realized that he had fallen into a trap, saying to him, “Are you here to kill me?” The officer executed him and threw his parts into a forest at dawn, then left Stockholm with his companion safely.

Another officer was sent to a station in Turkey. He was warned against falling into the trap of beautiful women.

In 1982, the man disappeared suddenly, and it was later discovered that he had left for Germany with a Turkish lady.

The missing man later returned to Turkey, but it was later learned that he had been lured to a special place and was mysteriously eliminated.

According to Jomaili, the intelligence agency allowed these events to leak among its members as a deterrent to anyone who dared to commit a similar act or defect.



Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Punishing Gaddafi, Assad… Financial Aid to Chirac, Plot to Kill Danielle Mitterrand

Salem Al-Jomaili, director of the US branch of the intelligence agency under Saddam Hussein (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Salem Al-Jomaili, director of the US branch of the intelligence agency under Saddam Hussein (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Punishing Gaddafi, Assad… Financial Aid to Chirac, Plot to Kill Danielle Mitterrand

Salem Al-Jomaili, director of the US branch of the intelligence agency under Saddam Hussein (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Salem Al-Jomaili, director of the US branch of the intelligence agency under Saddam Hussein (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The lack of camaraderie between Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi stemmed from their distinct personalities, with the latter nurturing a delusion of being the rightful leader of the Arab world.


Differences and tensions between the two leaders were exacerbated by Libya’s alliance with Iran during their war with Iraq.


Similarly, Saddam’s relationship with Hafez Al-Assad was characterized by animosity, fueled by fierce competition between the Baathist regimes, as well as the countries and capitals they represented. Adding to the tension was Syria’s alignment with Iran.


Once Iraq’s war with Iran concluded, Saddam vowed to seek vengeance against both men.


Conversely, Saddam Hussein established friendly connections with the late French President Jacques Chirac, even providing financial support for his election campaigns. Similarly, he fostered amicable relations with the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Nevertheless, the Iraqi authorities were infuriated by Danielle, the wife of former French President François Mitterrand, and targeted her with an explosive device. Fortunately, she survived by chance.


Salem Al-Jomaili, director of the US branch of the intelligence agency under Saddam, reminisced about numerous forgotten events and shared his stories.


In the 1970s, Saddam forged a friendly alliance with Chirac, then prime minister of France, during his visit to Iraq.


Chirac was deeply impressed by Saddam's personality and showed a keen understanding of Arab perspectives, displaying the ability to approach Middle Eastern problems in a constructive manner. The two countries collaborated on various projects, some of which were highly sensitive.


Given this connection, Saddam ordered the Iraqi intelligence agency to back Chirac in the French elections, supplying him with financial assistance for two election campaigns in the 1980s.


Due to the delicate nature of the matter, it was not feasible to use banks to transfer the funds. Instead, the agency had to dispatch the amount in a suitcase, and the drop-off location had to be a Paris metro station to evade detection by security agencies.


Chirac’s associates would dispatch a man who was privy to the password to the designated metro station to retrieve the suitcase.


Danielle Mitterrand, on the other hand, engaged in activities that were detrimental to Iraq. She was an advocate for human rights, civil liberties, and the plight of ethnic and religious minorities.


She enjoyed a close relationship with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani and paid significant attention to the Kurdish issue.


Following the Kurdistan region gaining de facto autonomy in 1991, she made numerous trips to Sulaymaniyah and engaged in harmful media and political activities, including supporting France’s efforts to pass UN Security Council Resolution 688, which imposed no-fly zones.


She heavily publicized the Halabja incident and Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, which led to a decision to put an end to her behavior.


During her visit to the Sulaymaniyah province in July 1992, Danielle was en route to the Halabja martyrs’ monument when a bomb was planted on her path.


Fortunately, she survived the incident by a stroke of luck, as a passing truck happened to come between her and the bomb, shielding her from harm. Afterward, she departed from Sulaymaniyah without any intention of returning.


In search of missiles capable of attacking Baghdad, Iran sought the help of Syria, who advised them to reach out to Libya instead.


Initially, Gaddafi was hesitant about getting involved, but his second-in-command, Abdel Salam Jalloud, eventually convinced him. Some speculate that Gaddafi’s desire to improve ties with Iran was motivated by several reasons, including ending allegations of him being behind the disappearance of Iranian-born Lebanese scholar and political leader Musa Al-Sadr.


An Airbridge to Retaliate against Gaddafi


In 1985, at the height of military operations in the Iraq-Iran war, Baghdad was surprised by the first Iranian missile falling in the middle of the city, targeting the Central Bank building. Since the beginning of the war, Iran had not been able to launch missile attacks on Baghdad.


Experts examined the missile parts and found that it was a Russian-made scud missile, which was not on the list of weapons of the Iranian army.


After investigation, it was discovered that Libya had supplied Iran with this type of missiles. In fact, Iran’s possession of scud missiles contributed to escalating what was then called the “war of cities.”


The motive behind Gaddafi’s reckless act was evidently rooted in his animosity towards the Iraqi president. In response, Saddam ordered for intelligence and military presence along the borders with Libya.


The Libyan opposition was situated on the border between Libya and Chad. While Iraq maintained a strong relationship with Chad’s Hissene Habre, Gaddafi's forces supported armed movements opposing him.


A military training camp for Libyan opposition forces was established on the Libyan-Chadian border, and Libyan opposition elements located in Baghdad and Chad were transferred there for military training.


Iraqi support was significant, with an airlift established from the Al-Rashid military base in Baghdad to the Chadian capital airport of N'Djamena. Transportation operations included light and medium weapons, mortars, and anti-tank missiles, all of which were supervised by Iraqi intelligence officers.


On the political side, Tariq Aziz was responsible for the file.


Upon completing their military training, the Libyan opposition launched a surprise attack on Gaddafi's forces, inflicting heavy losses and forcing them to withdraw from the battle.


Days later, Gaddafi sent his cousin Ahmed Gaddafi Al-Dam to Baghdad, where he was received by the head of intelligence, Fadel Al-Barrak, and General Hussein Kamel.


Al-Jomaili admitted to being in charge of arranging the visit. The two sides agreed to end Iraq’s support for the Libyan opposition in exchange for Libya ending its support for Iran.


Summer, Winter between Saddam, Assad


Tension was the norm in the relationship between the Iraqi and Syrian Ba'ath parties. Each side hosted the other's opposition and Syria’s support for Iran during its war with Iraq raised suspicions that were not dispelled by the few ceasefires.


Al-Jomaili was asked to recall some of the milestones in that file.


According to him, at the end of 1991, during Syria’s participation in peace negotiations with Israel in Madrid, tensions arose within Syria, particularly from the Muslim Brotherhood organization.


The Muslim Brotherhood decided to launch a second armed revolution against the Assad regime, taking advantage of public anger over Syria’s participation in the war against Iraq and its US-sponsored bilateral negotiations with Israel.


Al-Jomaili revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood had around 300 fighters who were training at a camp near the Iraqi city of Ramadi.


Their leadership, headed by Ali Sadreddine Al-Bayanouni, requested that they be provided with weapons and allowed to infiltrate into Türkiye, and then enter Syria to declare armed rebellion.


Al-Jomaili noted that during discussions with the Muslim Brotherhood, Saddam’s officials stressed the risks of this adventure and expressed concerns about a repeat of the scenario of the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in 1982, which led to the killing of at least 30,000 Syrians.


However, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood insisted that the circumstances were different and that what happened in the past would not be repeated.


Based on this, Iraqi officials communicated the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan to Saddam and proposed that their demands be approved.


Nonetheless, the president's reply took a different turn.


According to Al-Jomaili, Saddam did not concur and said that the conditions are unsuitable.


At the time, Saddam argued that the Syrian regime was currently engaged in negotiations with Israel, and if it senses vulnerability to an internal threat jeopardizing its existence, it will ask for protection from the US and the West.


Syria would have to give up concessions in favor of Israel that it wished to withhold at the time.


French Ambassador to Yemen: Houthis’ Obstacles Hinder Solution

French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa during his meeting with Yemeni President Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi, in March 2023 (Twitter)
French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa during his meeting with Yemeni President Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi, in March 2023 (Twitter)

French Ambassador to Yemen: Houthis’ Obstacles Hinder Solution

French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa during his meeting with Yemeni President Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi, in March 2023 (Twitter)
French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa during his meeting with Yemeni President Dr. Rashad Al-Alimi, in March 2023 (Twitter)

French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa said that the Houthis were their own enemies, warning the Iranian-backed group of the growing gap with the Yemeni people. He also stressed that negotiations were in their interest, pointing to a “historic opportunity” to achieve peace in the country.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Safa highlighted some obstacles put in place by the Houthis in the recent peace efforts, especially in the issue of salaries.

He emphasized the presence of a consensus within the Security Council to support the role of the UN envoy to Yemen, and to launch a comprehensive internal political process under the auspices of the United Nations.

Safa - one of the most active ambassadors in the Yemeni file and who has extensive knowledge of the complexities of the crisis - believes that the Yemeni people have the ability to withstand, and the youth were open to the world, unlike the Houthi project, which he described as “reactionary”.

The ambassador stressed that France supports the Saudi-Omani efforts, which provide a favorable environment for the international endeavor, indicating that the Saudi-Iranian agreement had a positive impact on the Yemeni file.

According to Safa, there is no intention to issue a new Security Council resolution on Yemen. He noted that the priority was to revive an intra-Yemeni political process under UN auspices.

He also affirmed that France strongly supports the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, and commends his constant commitment and efforts to achieve peace, especially after the tangible results represented in the decline of violence in the country after the truce that took place in April 2022.

Houthis’ obstacles

The French ambassador to Yemen explained that the peace process needed more time due to some obstacles on the part of the Houthis, especially in the issue of salaries.

“The process needs some time. There are many issues, including salaries. There are still some problems because of the extremist Houthi group, and negotiations with them are always difficult. I hope that pragmatism within the group prevails over the ideological wing. This is necessary to reach a comprehensive and complete political solution under the auspices of the United Nations,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Safa noted that the peace negotiations were in the interest of the Houthis.

He explained: “The Yemenis know exactly what is happening in their country. They know that the Houthis waged an economic war against legitimacy. This halted oil exports. The people are also aware that the group has gained billions of dollars through the port of Hodeidah and others, while the economic situation in their areas has deteriorated... This means that the gap between the Houthis and the people is growing day by day, and the Houthis’ interest lies in the negotiations.”

The ambassador, however, pointed to the Yemeni people’s resilience.

“When I visited Aden a month and a half ago, where France opened a space for young people, I saw their enthusiasm because they want to communicate with the world and modernity, in contrast to the reactionary Houthi project,” he remarked.

No moderates among the Houthis

According to Safa, the Houthi group is experiencing a factional struggle between pragmatists and ideologues, in the absence of moderates - as he put it.

“The conflicting statements are evidence of the existence of different wings within the group, especially the pragmatic wing as opposed to the ideological wing. I always say that the Houthis are their own enemies because of their ideologues,” he stated.

“Nevertheless, we hope that the pragmatic current within the group will expand. Because they support the idea of negotiations. Ideologues, on the other hand, favor the military option, extremism and war. Therefore, we hope that the pragmatic wing will prevail over the ideological wing for the sake of the country and the people, and for the benefit of the Houthis themselves,” the ambassador told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Saudi-Omani efforts

Safa affirmed that France supports the Saudi-Omani efforts, which he said provide a conducive environment for the international endeavor to resolve the crisis.

“Because of Houthi extremism and intransigence, there are obstacles to achieving peace. We hope, with time, to reach solutions to all issues and establish an intra-Yemeni political process under the auspices of the UN envoy,” he said.

The French ambassador also noted that the Saudi-Iranian agreement had a positive impact on the Yemeni file, hoping that this would push the Houthis towards the right direction and soften their stance.

In response to a question about an intention to issue a new Security Council resolution pertaining to Yemen, Safa indicated that this was not on the table at the present time.

“So far, a new resolution is not on the agenda of the Security Council. Today, the priority is to revive the intra-Yemeni political process under the auspices of the United Nations,” he stated.


Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta: Wagner is Fighting in Sudan

Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta
Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta

Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta: Wagner is Fighting in Sudan

Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta
Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta

A prominent leader in the Sudanese army, Lieutenant General Yasser Al-Atta, said that the army fully controls all the provinces of the country, with the exception of some limited enclaves.

He accused the media affiliated with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of fabricating lies to raise the morale of its members.

In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Atta - a member of the ruling Sovereignty Council – thanked Saudi Arabia and the United States for their mediation to end the fighting in Sudan. He stressed, however, that the army was seeking to expel the rebel forces from Khartoum, limit their presence to one camp, engage the good elements into the army and prosecute the senior leaders of the RSF.

Al-Atta denied the possibility of the current conflict turning into a civil war, “because the army and its leadership represent all of Sudan’s regions and tribes.”

He confirmed the intervention of the Russian Wagner forces in the fighting and gold extraction operations, revealing that General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, commander of Sudan’s RSF, owns a large stock of gold (53 tons in Russia and 22 tons in another sister country and inside Sudan).

The army controls all provinces

Al-Atta told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Sudanese army was in complete control of all the provinces, except for some rebel enclaves, which have lost most of their capabilities and were currently carrying out some criminal acts.

“Conflicting information is the result of the misleading media of the rebels,” he emphasized, noting that the army has captured and destroyed all of the Rapid Support military bases in the capital, which forced the paramilitary group to deploy in the vicinity of the presidential palace, and inside the residential neighborhoods.

They are also present inside hospitals, schools and densely populated neighborhoods, he remarked.

“For the reasons I mentioned, the General Command set up new strategies to defeat [the Rapid Support Forces]”, by taking into account the need to protect the citizens and avoid causing damage to the state’s infrastructure.

The “mother of all battles” was led by Al-Burhan

According to Al-Atta, the Sudanese army succeeded in expelling the Rapid Support Forces from the General Command and the Khartoum airport.

“Recently, they summoned large forces from outside Khartoum, estimated at three battalions, which deployed in the airport neighborhood next to the house of the president, and in the vicinity of the General Command, while three battalions occupied the headquarters of the Operations Authority, and three others the headquarters of the dissolved National Congress (the ruling party during the era of ousted President Omar al-Bashir). The two locations are directly adjacent to the south of the airport.”

He continued: “All these forces were crushed in the battles of the General Command, which we called ‘the mother of all battles,’ and were personally led by the Commander-in-Chief [Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan]. There remains the Battle of the Palace in which we besieged them, and they will be completely defeated.”

“They did not win any battle because they betrayed our forces that were working with them side by side.... The irrational ambitions of their leadership led them to this holocaust,” Al-Atta stated.

The Saudi-American initiative

The Sudanese army’s senior official thanked Saudi Arabia and the United States for their mediation to end the fighting.

“But our goal in the dialogue is only to expel the rebel forces from the capital, limit their presence in one camp, and select members who meet the conditions of the military service to join the armed forces ... The remaining members will be handed over to the demobilization commission to be qualified for public life,” he said.

He also stressed the need to prosecute the senior leaders of the RSF for the crimes they committed against the country and the citizens.

“Any dialogue that does not address these points will be a postponement of the war,” he warned.

Fears of a civil war

Asked about fears that the clashes would develop into a civil war, in light of the presence of many armies and security breaches, in addition to the fragile economic situation, Al-Atta said: “No, these battles will not lead to a civil war because the Sudanese army includes all the tribes of Sudan.”

He added: “Our problem is with the Dagalo gang and some of the criminal leaders who forced these young men into a battle to serve their personal interests only. So there will never be a civil war in this direction, God willing.”

On fears of regional and international parties engaging in the war, Al-Atta emphasized that the Sudanese army “did not ask any country to support us in the war, knowing the sensitivity of the matter.”

“We have a dead sniper from Wagner, and we have received some information... that there are attempts by sister countries to seek help for the rebel militia, and that [Hemedti] forces include mercenaries from Chad, Niger, Mali and others,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Wagner in Sudan

On the support proposal offered by the commander of the Russian Wagner forces, Al-Atta said: “We don’t want his help. We only deal with recognized international, regional and humanitarian countries and organizations. If the state of Russia wants to help, it is welcome.”

He pointed to the Wagner members’ presence in Sudan, saying: “All the world knows where they are. Wherever there are gold mining companies for Hemedti, in Sudan or on the borders with Libya or Central Africa, there are Wagner elements.”

Sudan’s gold is being smuggled

According to Al-Atta, Sudan’s gold has been smuggled abroad for years, and the volume of smuggled production is very large.

“The information available to me indicates that Hemedti has stocks estimated at 53 tons in Russia and 22 tons in another sister country..., while he is hiding tons in Sudan,” he revealed.

Responding to accusations that the army commander had allowed the Rapid Support Forces to expand and recruit freely, in violation of the army law, Al-Atta said: “The army commander stopped the last recruitment and refused to give them military numbers. Despite this, they recruited more than 36,000 soldiers, who have now been stopped by the war.”

He explained that the army commander always avoided confrontation and tended to integrate them under political pressure.

“But the politicians forged alliances with them due to their lack of experience and temporary tactics...” he remarked.

Hemedti is lying

Al-Atta accused General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, commander of Sudan’s RSF, of fabricating lies.

He also pointed to conflicting reports about pressure exerted on Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar to support Hemedti.

“Recently, we learned that he went back on this. We sincerely hope for this move by a brotherly and dear country,” he noted.

As for Ethiopia, Al-Atta thanked Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for “his courageous stance that border issues can only be resolved through dialogue.”

“He is a man of morals stemming from a great African civilization... He is saluted and appreciated,” he noted.

Perthes’ negative role

The Sudanese army official described as “negative” the role of Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Sudan, Volker Perthes.

“His role is very negative, because he falls into a circle of influence that makes him walk in one limited direction that will not allow him to solve the problem. His idea will not lead us to safety. It is better to replace him with another envoy who is neutral and open to all,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Chinese FM to Asharq Al-Awsat: Beijing-Riyadh Relationship Based on Modern Foundations

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (Getty Images)
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (Getty Images)

Chinese FM to Asharq Al-Awsat: Beijing-Riyadh Relationship Based on Modern Foundations

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (Getty Images)
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (Getty Images)

China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang has emphasized that his country’s approach to its relationship with Saudi Arabia is based on contemporary foundations. He added that Riyadh holds a significant role in China’s diplomatic efforts towards the Middle East.

Looking into the future, China will maintain the Kingdom’s prominent position in its Middle East diplomacy, Gang told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“China will continue to see Saudi Arabia as a high priority in its Middle East diplomacy,” he said.

China will collaborate with Saudi Arabia to further align the Belt and Road Initiative with the Saudi Vision 2030, while jointly advancing global development, security, and civilization initiatives.

The aim is to promote integrated development through mutual progress, enriching the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and the Kingdom with new and modern elements.

Gang noted that the diplomatic relations between the Kingdom and China have been established for 33 years and have seen significant and comprehensive growth.

Their mutual trust on the political level has continuously deepened, and their cooperation has yielded fruitful results, stressed the foreign minister.

As a result, the two countries have become close friends who deal with each other sincerely and on the basis of mutual respect, he added.

Gang also cautioned against US attempts to incite conflict between China and Taiwan, which he believes poses a significant threat to the global order and fundamental principles of international relations.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Gang stated that China is committed to vigorously defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as protecting the rights and interests of its 1.4 billion citizens, including the people of Taiwan.

He clarified that China’s objective is to counter any efforts to divide the country and encourage Taiwan’s independence.

Gang accused the US of attempting to contain China by exploiting Taiwan, thereby impeding its development. He further accused the US of seeking to achieve Taiwan’s independence through military force.

The top diplomat added that the Taiwan issue represents a fundamental interest of China.

The “One China” principle, according to Gang, is a vital political foundation for establishing and developing relationships with countries around the world, as well as being a crucial component of the post-World War II international system.

Regarding the Saudi-Iranian agreement brokered by China, Gang affirmed that the ongoing improvement of Saudi-Iranian relations serves as a model for settling conflicts and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation.

According to Gang, China welcomed the recent significant step to improve relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which involves exchanging working teams and reopening embassies based on the roadmap and timeline set out in a Beijing-sponsored agreement.

Gang explained that permanent security and safety cannot be achieved without a commitment to the concept of integrated, cooperative, and sustainable collective security, and the adoption of a new approach characterized by dialogue, partnership, and mutual gain, rather than confrontation, bias, or a zero-sum game.

As a trusted friend and close partner of Middle Eastern countries, China will steadfastly support constructive dialogue and communication and assist efforts to achieve strategic independence and strengthen solidarity and coordination.

Gang also stated that China opposes US attempts to pressure Europe into distancing and excluding China.

China has no intention of replacing the US in Europe, said Gang, adding that his country advocates for a cooperative relationship that benefits both China and Europe.

However, China opposes any attempts by the US to interfere with or damage China’s relations with European countries, including France.

Gang emphasized that the enduring strength of Chinese-Russian relations amid changing global circumstances does not pose a threat to any country worldwide and remains unaffected by any third-party interference or attempts to incite discord.

Instead, it represents a positive direction for progress and the advancement of history.

The minister stated that China and Russia will continue to push their comprehensive strategic partnership in the new era and work to maintain the international system, promote multipolarity, democratize international relations, and contribute to the development of humanity.

When it comes to the Ukrainian-Russian crisis, Gang noted that the focus is on ending the violence and pursuing a political resolution, with responsible dialogue being the best course of action.

The ongoing seriousness and complexity of the situation since the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis for over a year is unfortunate and distressing, noted Gang, clarifying that this highlights the reality that conflicts and wars do not produce winners and that imposing sanctions, repression, and further inflaming tensions only lead to further escalation of conflicts.

China did not create the Ukrainian crisis, nor has it taken part in the conflict, stressed Gang.

However, as a responsible major country and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has taken a proactive approach to resolving the crisis.

Rather than escalating tensions or worsening the situation, China has consistently advocated for peaceful negotiations and worked to stop the fighting. In all its actions, China prioritizes the values of peace and justice, asserted Gang.

During a phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, it was emphasized that dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solutions to the crisis, revealed Gang.

“Regrettably, certain countries, for their own geopolitical interests, do not want to see an early end of the conflict. They make up rumors and slanders against China, and impose unwarranted sanctions on Chinese companies,” he added.

South Sudan Foreign Minister Stresses Continuous Efforts to Stop the War

South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Deng Dau
South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Deng Dau

South Sudan Foreign Minister Stresses Continuous Efforts to Stop the War

South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Deng Dau
South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Deng Dau

South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Deng Dau warned against the expansion of the war in Sudan, which he said directly affects his country in terms of security, economy, politics and society.

He noted that the long border between the two countries, from east to west, embraces 12 crossings, and has allowed the evacuation of more than 40,000 nationals of 11 countries from Europe, Africa, Asia and America.

In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from Juba, Dau stressed that his country was exerting continuous efforts for the success of an expected meeting with the parties to the conflict, with the aim to conduct a dialogue that would stop the war between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces.

“There is an urgent need for material and logistical support from humanitarian organizations, to meet the growing demand, in terms of relief, food, shelter and treatment for refugees in the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan...” He stated. “If the war continues until the end of the month, we will expect the number of refugees and those fleeing the country to exceed 170,000, as we receive about 500 people every day.”

He explained that the initiative launched by President Salva Kiir Mayardit for a one-week truce in Sudan, came as a result of an extension of the initiative launched by the president on April 16, and was accepted by both parties to the conflict.

According to Dau, President Salva Kiir appealed, through direct contact with the Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Army, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Rapid Support Forces, Lieutenant General Mohammad Hamdan Hamidti, to stop the war, and sit around a dialogue table to resolve the crisis between the two sides.

Dau noted that the initiative put forward by the president of South Sudan was based on four axes, including a one-week cease-fire, followed by each side appointing its delegation for the talks, then specifying the location and timing of the dialogue, and finally launching the peace talks.

The foreign minister pointed to fierce clashes in Khartoum, stressing that those led to the suspension of basic services at the airport.

He also emphasized the importance of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to evacuate nationals from more than 96 countries and expressed appreciation for the Saudi-American initiative to end the conflict.

Dau said that any conflict, war or instability in Sudan will affect the countries of the region as a whole. He stressed that Juba welcomes any endeavors of the African Union, or those led by Saudi Arabia, America or other countries, as they all fall in the same direction to stop the war and achieve peace.

“Our vision is for the Sudanese to try to manage the dialogue themselves, but on the other hand, this does not preclude the engagement of other parties in the region to contribute to finding possible solutions to the crisis and achieving peace,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Regarding the effectiveness of the emergency program of the United Nations organizations on the border between the two countries, Dau explained that the border areas suffer from many humanitarian problems due to the presence of several refugee camps.

“In 2010 and 2012, there were 340,000 Sudanese refugees from the border states, such as the states of the Kordofan and White Nile regions, while the current conflict exacerbated the humanitarian situation, which requires urgent aid,” he stated.

The foreign minister said that South Sudan’s oil exports, through Port Sudan, have not been affected by the conflict so far, pointing out that the pipeline connecting Juba to Port Sudan, was not subjected to any targeting.