Iraqi PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: Our Country Won’t Be Arena for Settling Scores

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani sits down for an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani sits down for an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Baghdad.

Iraqi PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: Our Country Won’t Be Arena for Settling Scores

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani sits down for an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani sits down for an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani announced that Iraq and Saudi Arabia are capable of forming a regional axis that can act as a foundation for stability in the region and world. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, he revealed that he agreed with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister, on a roadmap to develop bilateral relations that would begin with ministerial visits and later the convening of the Saudi-Iraqi coordination council with the aim of carrying out projects over three years.

Sudani stressed that Baghdad will continue to play its role in hosting the Saudi-Iranian dialogue, revealing that a new meeting will be held between them soon.

The PM denied that Iran or the United States had interfered in the formation of his government that has now been in office for a hundred days. “The government was completely formed through Iraqi efforts. I was not influenced in any way, shape, or form by foreign meddling,” he assured.

On how Iraq can deal with both its allies – the US and Iran – given the tensions between them, the PM stated: “We don’t want Iraq to be an arena for settling scores. We are not siding with one party against the other. Rather, we are keen on strengthening our relations based on mutual interests and respect and refraining from meddling in internal affairs.” He added, however, that Iraq’s interests will remain the top priority.

Furthermore, Sudani underlined Iraq’s “pioneering role in the region with its Arab brothers, as well as Iran.” He stressed that “Iraq is destined to be Arab. This is Iraq’s natural state.”

The PM spoke at length about the internal situation in Iraq and the measures his government has taken in regards to administrative and security reforms, combating corruption and reclaiming looted funds.

After a hundred days in office, are you optimistic or skeptical? I won’t ask you if you regret taking on this challenging task.

Of course, I have no regrets because I know the extent of the mission and responsibility. I agreed to be designated as prime minister. I am optimistic. After a hundred days in office, the government is clear in carrying out its tasks and priorities on various levels, whether in its foreign relations or on the local level. Locally, the government has prioritized tackling poverty, creating job opportunities, improving services, carrying out economic reform and combating terrorism.

Has your experience so far confirmed what you have previously declared that corruption in Iraq was more dangerous than the COVID-19 pandemic?

That is why I have called it the “corruption pandemic”. This is the threat that is confronting the Iraqi state. It is more dangerous that COVID-19 and ISIS.

How much money has been squandered after the fall of Saddam Hussein?

I used to follow up on corruption regarding the theft of taxes when I was still a lawmaker. I was hoping that this issue would be the first to have been addressed when I became prime minister, but, unfortunately, the majority of the suspects have fled and helped smuggle the funds outside of Iraq.

According to preliminary calculations by audit agencies, some 3 billion dinars (2.5 billion dollars) have been stolen. Seeking greater transparency, our government contracted an international auditing firm to determine the exact amount that was stolen.

The squandering of funds goes back to 2003. There are no official statistics related to this issue. Corruption takes several forms. It could take place in the operational budget or the investment budget. It can take place outside the budgets, taking the shape of financial and administrative corruption.

It has been said that some 600 billion dollars have been squandered in less than two decades.

Why not 700 or 500 billion? These are estimates and figures, but they don’t give us the real picture. Neither we, nor the audit agencies are capable of giving an exact figure given the several budgets and projects related to investment. What sets this government apart, however, is its insistence on restoring the money that has been looted.

Can the government reclaim funds from powerful figures?

By applying the law, we can. We have kicked off the process and some important politicians have been arrested and looted funds have been reclaimed from them. Unfortunately, corruption can be found everywhere. Among minor employees, where surprisingly, the most damage can be made.

However, we can’t accuse everyone of being corrupt. There is an army of honorable people who have preserved public funds and stood against the corrupt. We must stand by those people and encourage them.

How is it possible that a rich country like Iraq can suffer from frequent power cuts? Is corruption to blame?

Yes, corruption and poor management and planning. In 2003, power production did not exceed 3,800 megawatts. Now, we have exceeded 21,000 megawatts, but that was also accompanied by greater expansion and growing needs. In the past, each house used to boast a fan. Now, each house has air conditioners and various appliances.

We have come across various problems, such as corruption and poor management and planning. In late 2013, just as we had resolved the electricity problem, we were confronted with ISIS and consequently, ended up taking several steps back.

Moreover, another glaring problem is the fact that only 10 percent of electricity taxes are collected throughout the country. This is due to the general attitude in that the people believe the state should assume this responsibility. Another reason is that the frequent power cuts weaken the government position. The people simply refuse to pay taxes for services that are not provided.

In addition, Iraq does not have a culture of power-saving. Whenever the power comes on, the people rush to turn on the air conditioners to cool their homes.

Has the rate of taxation increased?

As of yesterday, taxes have only reaped 600 billion dinars (around 400 million dollars) a year. The figure should be in the billions. On gas alone, we are spending 7 billion dollars a year by importing it from Iran. We are buying electricity at around 2.5 billion dollars. The expenses are massive and the taxes are minimal.

Will Iraq witness a deep reform process?

We have no choice but to carry out economic reform and diversify sources of income. We can no longer solely rely on oil revenues to cover budget expenses. We must look into alternatives, such as agriculture, industry and tourism. We must support the private sector so that it can create job opportunities.

Will unpopular decisions be taken next?

This government is destined to take reform decisions, which are often painful, but they will eventually benefit everyone.

I fear for the interest of Iraq and its people. When it comes to these two issues, I don’t care about my popularity and life. The interest of Iraq and its people are my compass.

What about the issue of the smuggling of dollars that we have been reading about?

After 2007, the central bank took the right step in tackling inflation and addressing the state of the dinar. During the 1990s, when Iraq was under the blockade, we would monitor the rise and fall of the dollar. Fluctuations would impact food prices.

What the central bank did was allow the selling of the currency. The trade mechanism was very common and it should have been revised and regulations should have been introduced. That did not happen and traders would go about reaping as much dollars as possible to transfer them abroad. At one point, 300 million dollars were being sold per day.

Are the dollars being smuggled to Türkiye and Iran?

The smuggling is ongoing all over the world. Several regional countries are witnessing a collapse in their local currency. I won’t go into names, but they certainly need dollars. Some of those complicit in the process here are money exchangers and banks. They are making major profits by selling dollars that are being transferred to neighboring and regional countries.

Are you optimistic that this issue can be addressed?

Yes. This process can be tackled through economic, financial and banking reform in Iraq. We have carried out a series of measures to reform the banking and financial systems according to international standards. The government’s primary concern is maintaining the prices of essential goods and providing them at reasonable costs to the people.

You received a telephone call from US President Joe Biden, who underscored his country’s commitment to the strategic partnership with Iraq. An Iraqi delegation is preparing to visit Washington. What will you ask from the US?

We agree with Biden on activating the strategic framework agreement, which elevates relations between Iraq and the US to economic, cultural, social and educational levels. The agreement is clear and was ratified by the Iraqi parliament. It must be activated. Our ties with the US should not be limited to security aspects, no matter how important they are.

The US is a strategic partner to Iraq and we can benefit from its expertise in improving the situation in Iraq on all levels. The US is a major power and Iraq is tied to it through agreements, the most important of which is the strategic framework pact. We are cooperating in combating ISIS. All political forces have stressed that they support relations between Iraq and all nations as long as it is in its interest. We have an interest in maintaining ties with the US and we don’t mind that.

How does Iraq reach common ground between Iran’s influence and the role of the US?

This is a dilemma that is always on the table. We are dealing with it as follows: Iran is a neighboring country with which we share several religious, cultural and social factors. Iran has stood by the political process from the start and stood by us in the war against ISIS. We are therefore, maintaining this relationship.

Of course, several Iraqi political powers enjoy positive ties with Iran and this is the case in several regional countries. These ties should be positive as long as they adhere to non-interference in the affairs of the other.

As for the US, it helped in the process of change that took place after 2003. The US was part of the international alliance that helped Iraq defeat ISIS. Today, we view the US as a partner with whom we want to develop ties.

Yes, relations are strained between the US and Iran, but this will definitely not take place at Iraq’s expense. We don’t want Iraq to be an arena for settling scores. We are not taking sides against another. We are keen on strengthening our relations according to common interests, mutual respect and refraining from meddling in the internal affairs of others.

Do you fear that Iraq will suffer repercussions as a result of the deterioration of ties between Iran and the West after the former’s weapons emerged in Ukraine?

We always seek stability. This stability won’t happen except through easing tensions. The Russian-Ukrainian war is not only having an impact on Europe, but the entire region. We live in a volatile region that needs more understanding, dialogue and an end to interference. We oppose any interference in any other country in times of conflict because that will only deepen this crisis.

The Russian-Ukrainian crisis can be resolved when meddling by all world countries comes to an end and when both parties come together to hold dialogue. Dialogue is the best way to avert tragedies in these countries and the region.

Iraq has been devastated by wars and blockades. It knows their impact. This is where we are coming from. There can be no solution to crises without dialogue. Foreign meddling will only prolong any crisis.

You are the first prime minister since 2003 to head a government that does not have members of the Sadrist movement. Has a truce or deal been reached with the movement? Don’t you worry that the economic crisis may lead to a revolt of some kind or push the Sadrists to take to the streets?

The Sadrist movement is a main and effective player in the political process, whether it is represented at parliament or government. We respect its decision to withdraw from parliament and we want it to remain active in political life.

A revolt by the movement or youths or any other side is a sign of a failure in implementing our government program and in fulfilling our pledges to the people. Of course, such a failure will be rejected by all segments of society, not just one political party or that.

The current situation cannot tolerate such a failure. The current coalition that formed this government is concerned with and responsible for the current stage in Iraq.

Is the Coordination Framework still pleased with the leanings of your government?

Of course, the Framework is the largest Shiite bloc. It nominated the prime minister to his post. It struck a deal with other blocs to form the government coalition. So, the success or failure of the government will be on the Framework, the government itself and the coalition.

Days ago you met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah. How do you describe the current relationship with Saudi Arabia?

The relationship is good. Everyone is keen on maintaining this relationship given Iraq and Saudi Arabia’s weight on the Islamic, Arab, economic and geographic levels. We can easily form a political-economic axis that can act as a foundation for the region and establish a stable regional system and become a cornerstone for global stability.

Iraq and Saudi Arabia are capable of doing so and we are serious about that. I had discussed this with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and found him very receptive, as usual, and eager to achieve this goal. When I took part in the Arab-Chinese summit in Riyadh, we came up with a work schedule that covers mutual visits.

This was followed by a visit by the foreign and trade ministers to Baghdad. Our ministers also visited Saudi Arabia. Meetings are being held to prepare for holding a meeting of the Iraqi-Saudi coordination council either in Baghdad or Riyadh. All of these issues were agreed with the Crown Prince during our meeting in Riyadh.

I have met Crown Prince Mohammed on a number of occasions when I was a minister and once after I became prime minister. It was during the Arab-Chinese summit that we held bilateral talks.

How to do you view the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia?

It is an experience that is worthy of respect and expertise must be exchanged to benefit from it. Saudi Arabia has taken a significant leap in properly investing in its resources. I witnessed this development firsthand when I was industry minister. I visited Ras al-Khair, al-Jubail and Riyadh. I witnessed the essence of Saudi industry and found that it was advanced and helped in securing a sizable amount of global market needs.

On the political level, Saudi Arabia is playing a major role. The Arab-Chinese summit was a step in the right direction. It is important for Arab and regional countries. We must contribute in easing tensions and regional crises to forge ahead with development and growth, which demand stability.

Can we expect a new round of Saudi-Iranian dialogue in Baghdad soon?

It will be held soon, God willing. At the request of our brothers in Saudi Arabia and Iran, we want the continuation of this relationship, which we view as essential because stability is consolidated whenever views align in the region.

Arrangements are underway for the dialogue to be held soon. We are seeking to raise the level of representation from security officials, to diplomatic ties, sponsored by Iraq. I am personally involved in the process.

Have Turkish-Arab dialogue rounds been held in Baghdad?

We believe they have been restricted to security coordination. We are keen on security coordination with all regional countries given our security agencies’ experience in uncovering terrorist plots. We want to share this information with regional countries. This includes Egypt, Jordan, Gulf countries, Iran, Türkiye and even European countries. Our security agencies have the means of infiltrating and dismantling terrorist cells.

Aren’t you worried about ISIS?

No, ISIS is just a terrified gang that has sought refuge in its dens. We are striking them every day and everywhere. They can no longer hold ground, as they are just four or five mobile groups that are targeting citizens and locations. Work is ongoing to crack down on those terrorists.

Have the security agencies uncovered a plot against your life?

No, they have not.

Iraq is suffering from the spread of illegal weapons. How much progress has the state made in combating this phenomenon?

When we were fighting ISIS, we sought out anyone capable of carrying weapons. ISIS was targeting innocent civilians and villages, cities and neighborhoods. The fight produced various armed factions. After the victory against ISIS, previous governments did not carry out the necessary effort in the security reform process.

Our government has. It issued an order to form a committee, headed by me, to carry out reform at security agencies. Among the top priorities is cracking down on the illegal possession of arms. The weapons must be restricted to security agencies that were formed according to the law. There will no longer be any weapons outside these agencies.

Dialogue will be used to resolve these problems. The predicament is that some sides are tying the possession of their weapons to the presence of foreign forces in Iraq that they believe to be illegal and unconstitutional. Several Iraqis support this view. If the foreign presence is regulated within the constitution and law, then they will no longer have the excuse to carry weapons.

Will the Arab summit be held soon?

Yes, but a date has not been set yet. I believe it will be held in Riyadh.

Will Syria attend?

We hope it will. It is about time that we kick off serious efforts in restoring Syria’s membership at the Arab League. An understanding must be reached because Syria’s stability is paramount to the region. Any terrorist threat against Iraq comes from Syria. Any instability in Syria will impact Jordan, Lebanon and other regional countries.

It is very important to hold dialogue with the Syrian government to help ease the suffering of the Syrian people, who are enduring challenging living and economic conditions.

Iran has accused alleged groups in Kurdistan of playing a role in the Isfahan attack. Are you worried that Iran may carry out any major action in Kurdistan?

This was one of the predicaments that the government has faced. It was also confronted with the violations that have taken place on the Iraqi-Turkish border. These issues have been discussed with Iran. Agreements were reached over having the official federal forces control the border, hand over wanted suspects through arrest warrants, and preventing any group from setting up camp or any armed presence.

What about ties with Syria?

They are limited to the official capacity and I have not visited Syria. No one from Syria has officially visited Iraq since I assumed my post.

Did you know [slain Iranian Quds Force commander] Qassem Soleimani or have you met him?

I would see him at general meetings. He would be part of official delegations at ministries and we would meet.

Has Iran supported your government?

Iran has never interfered in the negotiations to form the government.

You were never contacted by [current Quds Force commander] Esmail Qaani?


Not even the American ambassador?

Not even the American ambassador. The government was formed through a purely Iraqi process. I was not influenced by any direct or indirect meddling. Iraqis are proud of their Iraqiness and no true Iraqi would abandon their principles for others.

You have spoken about the “Arab depth”. Doesn’t that bother Iran?

Never. Iran has no problem with this. Iraq is an Arab nation and has played a pioneering role for hundreds of years. This is our natural role. We are proud of its role because it will help in establishing stability in the region, including Arab countries and neighbors, Syria and Iran alike.

What about interests with the Gulf? Did you discuss this with the Iranians?

Yes, and on the highest levels. Iraq is destined to be Arab. This is its normal position. It will not take on a role that is alien to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raytheon: Saudi Prowess in Supplying Defense Industries Globally

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

Raytheon: Saudi Prowess in Supplying Defense Industries Globally

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

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

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

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

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

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

- A trusted partner

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

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

- Localization of the military industry

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

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

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

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

- The Jeddah Factory and the Patriot System

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

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

- Threats to the region

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

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

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

- Artificial Intelligence

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

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

- Riyadh’s World Defense Show

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

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

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

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

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

Lebanese Internal Security Chief Warns of Political Impact on Stability

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

Lebanese Internal Security Chief Warns of Political Impact on Stability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Othman asserted that the security situation is under control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aisha Musa Criticizes ‘Opportunists’ of Sudan’s Crisis

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

Aisha Musa Criticizes ‘Opportunists’ of Sudan’s Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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