September 20, 2018
Middle East

At Arab summit, Saudi king slams Iran’s ‘blatant interference’

King Salman used the 29th Summit of the Arab League to push for a tough, unified stance against its regional arch-rival Iran (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Sunday slammed Iran's "blatant interference" in regional affairs as Arab leaders met in the kingdom for an annual gathering.

Opening the 29th Arab League summit, the king also criticised the US decision to transfer its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and described "terrorism" as the biggest challenge facing Arab leaders.

Seventeen leaders from across the Arab world – minus Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – gathered in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran for the summit, which this year comes as world powers face off over Syria and tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran.

The meeting opened only 24 hours after a barrage of strikes launched by the United States, Britain and France hit targets they said were linked to chemical weapons development in Syria, which was suspended from the league seven years ago.

VIDEO: #Saudi King Salman holds #Iran responsible for #Yemen crisis pic.twitter.com/IWzPgMuuK8

— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) April 15, 2018

But King Salman avoided any mention of Syria in his address, as a seat marked "Syrian Arab Republic" sat empty in the hall.

Instead the king focused on rivalries with long-time foe Iran – only 160km across the Gulf from Dharan.

"We renew our strong condemnation of Iran's terrorist acts in the Arab region and reject its blatant interference in the affairs of Arab countries," the king said.

And despite being a stalwart ally of the United States, the ruler also criticised US President Donald Trump controversial decision to transfer America's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"We reiterate our rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem," Salman said. "East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories."

Donation for East Jerusalem

Arab ministers at a preliminary meeting in Riyadh on Thursday focused heavily on blocking the move, unanimously condemning Trump's decision.

King Salman on Sunday announced a $150mn donation for the maintenance of Islamic heritage sites in East Jerusalem.

Saudi Arabia is pushing for a tough, unified stance against its regional arch-rival Iran at the annual gathering of the 22-member Arab League.

The two regional titans back opposing sides in a range of hotspots across the Middle East, including Lebanon and Syria and in Saudi Arabia's southern neighbour Yemen.

Iran is backing Shia Houthi rebels that Riyadh opposes in Yemen and on Sunday Salman praised "the UN Security Council's statement denouncing the Iranian-made ballistic missile fire on Saudi cities".

Last month the Security Council issued a statement condemning Houthi missile attacks on Saudi but did not name Iran.

In February, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have expressed concern over Iran's failure to block supplies of missiles to the Houthi rebels.

The summit also comes with Saudi Arabia and Qatar locked in a months-long diplomatic standoff, with Riyadh accusing Doha of supporting Islamist extremists and being too close to Iran.

While tensions have eased slightly in recent months, Qatars Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is not attending the summit – a sign that the nearly year-old dispute is far from being resolved.

Among the leaders in attendance was Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, who walked the red carpet and was greeted by King Salman. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for five counts of crimes against humanity, three counts of genocide and two counts of war crimes.

The Qatari emir, who attended last year's Arab summit in Jordan, returned to Doha on Saturday from a US trip where he met President Trump, who had publicly sided with the Saudis and Emiratis early in the crisis, but is now pushing for a resolution to restore Gulf Arab unity and maintain a united front against Iran.

The Qatari delegation will instead be headed by Doha's permanent representative to the Arab League, Saif bin Muqaddam al-Buainain, Qatars state news agency said.

Among the leaders in attendance was Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, who walked the red carpet and was greeted by King Salman. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for five counts of crimes against humanity, three counts of genocide and two counts of war crimes.

Summits of the Arab League, established in 1945, rarely result in action. The last time the bloc made a concrete move was in 2011, when it suspended Syria's membership over the Assad regime's role in the war.

Syria's war, the most complex of the region's conflicts, is the main point of contention pitting Riyadh and its allies, who mainly back Sunni rebels, against regime backer Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Gulf Arab states have made massive donations to Syria but have not officially offered asylum to Syrians.

Original Article

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