Ibrahim Al-Shammary (Al Riyadh Newspaper)
King Salman's policy.. The reign of decisiveness, Confrontation and mega- alliances

The foreign policy of any country may face circumstances and challenges that should be dealt with in a balanced and wise manner. However, the foreign policy determinants can only be mastered by those who possess sufficient experience, wisdom, and sound harmony with political changes and actors.

This is clear-cut in the current Saudi policy under Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz since the accession to the throne on January 23, 2015 AD. The current circumstances, rapid changes, and dangerous repercussions, hitting the region, constitute significant challenges to King Salman bin Abdulaziz who began to pursue a balanced and wise foreign and sometimes decisive without touching the essence of Saudi foreign policy, its constants and foundations since the reign of founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Saudi constants remain unwavering

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pursues a consistent foreign policy which was reflected in its priorities towards Arab and international crises. For consolidating this approach, Saudi foreign policy, for decades, has been dependent in its actions on specific principles, constants and foundations, set out below:

1. Following up on the international reality and reading its events continuously, then taking advantage of international balances and employing them for the benefit of the Kingdom without involving it in negative issues contrary to the declared political position in tandem with strengthening relations with the various international political powers and investing them in the interest of Arabs and Muslims

2. Pursuing the policy of non-alignment, good-neighborliness, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, full commitment to bilateral commitments and agreements, mutual respect and equal treatment based on respect for the principle of sovereignty

3. Reinforcing Gulf, Arab and Islamic relations in a way that serves common interests, supporting their causes by all means, and participating in the development of their peoples

4. Continued work for international peace and security, condemning global terrorism, and absolving Islam of it

5. Pursuing a balanced policy in the field of oil, and continued work to stabilize oil prices without harming producers and consumers alike

6. Playing a key role within the framework of regional and international organizations, and  providing material and moral support for the international efforts aimed at developing and promoting countries together with assisting victims of natural disasters, wars and conflicts, taking into consideration that the Saudi principles are not affected by any political dispute

Successes of the Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy in its regional and international environment will remain an important anchor in Vision 2030, which contributed to shaping the Kingdom's current foreign policy to keep pace with the change in the world. In this regard, the concept of (Map of Civilizations) used by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his speech about how to benefit from the foundations of Saudi power, emerged. He asserted that the kingdom's power and its history did not begin only with Islam, but the Kingdom also overlooks the three most important waterways in the world and caravans of peoples who lived in the ancient world crossed over its sands and vast areas. 

 In addition, the Kingdom succeeded in hosting three summits in the largest and most important political gathering in the world, held outside the United Nations headquarters: the Saudi-American summit, the Gulf-American summit and the Arab-Islamic-American summit. All these political events have stressed its impressive status in the Arab and Islamic worlds and proved the wisdom of its leadership. 

From the above, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, since his accession to throne, set his sight on achieving a number of goals and accomplishments within the six circles that represent the priorities of the Kingdom's foreign policy including the Gulf circle, the Arab circle then Islamic, international and the economic circles and finally the circle of combating terrorism as follows:

First: the Gulf Circle

The Gulf circle is one of the most important foreign policy circles of the Kingdom which sought, since its inception, to strengthen these relations, especially the Arab Gulf states. Therefore, Saudi foreign policy, in its Gulf circle, is based on many principles and foundations, the most important of which are:

1. Coordinating foreign policies, unifying positions regarding hot issues, facing dangers, finding an acceptable formulas for security agreements serving the Gulf states and settling disputes

2. Reinforcing cooperation and promoting relations in various political, economic, security, social and cultural fields 

3. Rejecting the interference in Gulf States’ internal affairs and standing united in front of any attack on any of these countries

4. Reinforcing ties among the Gulf states, and strengthening their position in the face of the growing challenges and threats and global economic blocs

However, the Qatari regime has deviated from its Gulf brothers by backing terrorism and destabilizing the security of the region, a matter which prompted the Gulf States to severe diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017. Qatar developed bilateral relations with Iran, launched the Al-Jazeera satellite station to insult the Gulf States along with providing a safe haven for terrorist groups and supporting them financially, morally, militarily. Despite the Qatari aviation, relations among the Kingdom and its Gulf sisters are on the way towards achieving an exceptional Gulf integration model based on cooperation and solidarity at all levels, politically, economically, socially and culturally.

Second: The Arab Circle

The Kingdom pursued a decisive and strong policy since King Salaman ascended to throne in 2015. The Kingdom decisively dealt with threats and dangers that destabilize the Arab region. It has set a new formula pertaining to achieving geostrategic balances and rearranged the Arab ranks through its political efforts based on the following principles:

1. Believing in the legitimacy of the existing Arab countries and their full right to sovereignty over their lands

2. Supporting the solidarity of the Arab countries, unify their positions, bring them together, and harnessing all capabilities to achieve their interests

3. Linking between Arabism and Islam because Islam is the content without which Arabism loses its most important pillars

Here, we put spot light on the most important Arab crises that occurred during the reign of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and his stances adopted: 

The Yemeni Crisis

The Arab circle includes many cases and files that the Kingdom, under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has given special attention. The most important of these crises is the Yemeni file. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques responded to the call of the legitimate authority in Yemen on March 24, 2015 based on the principle of self-defense stipulated in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, the Charter of the League of Arab States, and the Mutual Arab Defense Treaty. Riyadh led an Arab coalition to confront Iranian-backed Houthi Militia with the aim of protecting the Yemeni legitimacy and institutions.

When King Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended to the throne, Yemen was living in a situation of a legal vacuum, with no clear future after the Houthi Militia controlled Sanaa in September 2014 and their expansion in the country. On March 26, 2015, King Salman launched a military operation themed “Operation Decisive Storm (Amaliyyat 'Āṣifat al-Ḥazm)” against the Houthis, and followed by the operation of (Restoring Hope) that was culminated in the liberation of large areas from the grip of the Houthis.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques established clear lines for the Kingdom's policy in Yemen in his speech before the Shura Council, on December 14, 2016 AD, King Salman said: “The Yemen's security is part of Kingdom's security. We will not accept any interference in its internal affairs, anything that affects its legitimacy or makes it corridor for any country or entities targeting the security of the Kingdom and the region. We hope that the efforts of the United Nations will result in reaching a political solution in Yemen in accordance with Security Council Resolution (2216), the Gulf initiative and the outcomes of the Yemeni national dialogue.”

The arduous efforts of the Kingdom resulted in signing the Riyadh Agreement by the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council on November 05, 2019 AD, in the presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Syrian crisis

Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the Kingdom has been keen to emphasize its supportive role for the Syrian people, to alleviate their humanitarian suffering. The Kingdom received about two million Syrians, treated them equally with citizens and granted them regular residency “Iqama”. The Saudi authorities allowed them to enter labor market without restrictions, and obtain free health care and education. 

Riyadh hosted the Syrian opposition during the meetings on December 9 and 10, 2015. These meetings were culminated in the formation of the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which is the most prominent representative entity in international forums today.

King Salman affirmed that the Kingdom stands with the brotherly Syrian people in order to achieve their aspirations, alleviate their humanitarian suffering and reach a political solution settling the suffering of the Syrians in accordance with the Geneva 1 declaration.

During his speech before the Shura Council on November 20, 2019, King Salman bin Abdulaziz reaffirmed the Kingdom's position that a political solution is the only one to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity and united homeland for all Syrians. He also said peace will be achieved only by removing all Iranian forces and their affiliated militias from Syrian territory.

Palestinian crisis

The Saudi position under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdulaziz has remained constant and clear and expresses the Kingdom's keenness for the Palestinian people to obtain their legitimate rights and condemning the escalation and irresponsible practices of the Israeli forces. The Saudi Leadership repeatedly called for putting an end to the construction of Israeli settlements, confirming that a comprehensive, just and lasting peace can only be achieved with a complete withdrawal of Israel from all the Arab territories occupied in 1967 and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in accordance with the relevant international legitimacy resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.

At the opening of the proceedings of the first year of the 8th session of the Shura Council on November 11, 2020, AD King Salman said: “The Kingdom affirms its continued support for the Palestinian people to establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with international legitimacy resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.” Adding that: “We back all sincere efforts aimed at establishing peace in the Middle East by negotiating between the Palestinian and Israeli sides to reach a just and lasting agreement.”

The Iraqi crisis

The Iraqi crisis has become more fragile due to the weak participatory relationship among the components and spectra of the Iraqi people. Given the seriousness of these situations and their serious repercussions on Gulf security, Saudi policy, led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, moved to save Iraq from the clutches of sectarianism. The Kingdom swiftly provided assistance to Iraqis to reach a consensual vision regarding a new social contract that preserves the unity of the Iraqi state and paves the way for the participation of all Iraqi spectra in the political process.

At the opening of the activities of the first year of the 8th session of the Shura Council on November 11, 2020, King Salman stressed the Kingdom’s support with Iraq and its people. He said: “We support the arduous efforts of the Iraqi government for its stability, development and preservation of its position in the Arab environment in tandem with reinforcing relations and cooperation between the two brotherly countries in various fields through the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council. 

Libyan crisis

Since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, the Saudi position was clear-cut, adhering to support for Libyan legitimacy. The Kingdom urged all Libyan parties to work for completing the transitional institutional structure and enabling Parliament to play its key role, according to what was stipulated in the Libyan political agreement and coordinating among the legitimate Libyan military and security forces together with establishing a joint military and security command in Libya that fights against terrorist organizations present on all Libyan soil. The Saudi leadership also stressed the importance of the participation of all Libyan community strata in the political process along with reinforcing communication and awareness inside Libya and searching for effective dialogue mechanisms to promote reconciliation.

King Salman confirmed this position at the opening of the proceedings of the first year of the 8th session of the Shura Council on November 11, 2020. He said: “We follow with keen interest the latest developments of the situation in Libya, renewing the Kingdom’s welcome to the permanent ceasefire agreement signed by joint Libyan military commissions under the auspices of the United Nations, looking forward that this agreement pave the way for rendering the understandings on the political and economic tracks successful. This contributes to inaugurating a new era that achieves security, peace, sovereignty and stability for Libya and its brotherly people, calling for an end to external interference in Libyan affairs.

Sudanese Crisis

The Kingdom pursued supportive policies for brotherly Sudan. This was voiced out by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Cabinet Member Adel Al-Jubeir on August 17, 2019. He said that the Sudan Agreement is the first block that will contribute to building an empowered state at the security and economical levels. The agreement also will help achieve aspirations of the brotherly Sudanese people.  The Kingdom's position and its historical commitment to the security and safety of Sudan and the preservation of its security and economic components are steadfast that grows stronger day by day. 

This Saudi stance was confirmed by King Salman at the opening of the proceedings of the first year of the 8th session of the Shura Council on November 11, 2020. He said: “As the Chair of the Friends of Sudan Group, the Kingdom stresses the importance of backing Sudan currently and affirms the full political support for the Juba peace talks.”

Third: The Islamic Circle

The Kingdom has paid more attention to the issues of the Islamic world and harnessed its capabilities and resources for the service of Islamic countries’ issues. The most prominent evidence is the Kingdom’s initiative with Islamic countries to establish a system comprising all Islamic governmental and non-governmental organizations including the Muslim World League (MWL) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Kingdom also paid more attention to establish a mechanism for settling disputes among Islamic countries peacefully. It also provides economic aid to Islamic countries and societies with limited capabilities, assists ill-fated Islamic countries and defends Muslims and their causes together with providing material and moral support to Islamic communities that face existential challenges similar to what the Rohingya suffer in Myanmar.

Fourth: the international Circle

The Saudi strategy aimed to diversify its options with various countries of the world in order to achieve a regional balance, pursue non-aligned policy and a desire for the political openness. The Kingdom is, at this critical stage, seeks to diversify its political and economic basket. This was stressed by King Salman at the opening of the proceedings of the first year of the 8th session of the Shura Council on November 11, 2020. He said that the Kingdom is always keen on constructive interaction with the international community by adhering to the United Nations Charter and the international treaties and agreements. Bearing these principles in mind, the Kingdom affirms the non-use of armed force in the international relations, and the need for the international community to assume its responsibilities towards those who pursue the policy of interference in the internal affairs of others. The Kingdom condemns all forms of violence and means that disrupt international peace and security, and rejects any attempt to interfere in its internal affairs. The Kingdom also rejects terrorism and extremist ideology and fights its financing, and supports international efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms. The Kingdom provides the financial support for the United Nations Center for Counter-Terrorism with USD 110 million and established the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, Etidal. It also hosted the International Center for Targeting Terrorist Financing. In the field of humanitarian and development aid, the Kingdom has provided over the past three decades more than USD 86 billion in the form of humanitarian aid for serving 81 countries.

The United States and Saudi Arabia are linked to strategic relations. They established full diplomatic relations, with exchange of credentials and the first U.S. ambassadorial posting to Jeddah, in 1940.  Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its holding of the world’s second largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location all play a key role in the long-standing bilateral relationship between the Kingdom and the United States. The United States and Saudi Arabia have a common interest in preserving the stability, security, and prosperity of the Gulf region and consult closely on a wide range of regional and global issues. The Kingdom establishes strategic relations with Russia. Saudi Arabia is the leader of the Gulf Cooperation Council and an important player alongside Russia in the oil market. The changes in the region open up new possibilities for the two countries. Saudi-Chinese relations are currently growing up, especially after signing a joint statement to establish comprehensive strategic partnership relations between the two countries.

Moreover, the Kingdom’s international move is not limited to mere relations with the super powers, but the kingdom’s position and key role has become deep-rooted as well by intensifying its strenuous efforts to resolve conflicts, in line with the United Nations Charter, and employing proactive diplomacy to prevent these crises from escalating and turning them into military conflicts that result in disasters.

Therefore, the Kingdom pursues a balanced and wise policy with world powers. This is made in accordance with a clever Saudi equation based on a constructive balance in establishing alliance relations with the various international powers.

Fifthly: the Economic Circle

 The Kingdom has the largest global oil reserves, which places it face to face with its regional and international responsibility. This was confirmed by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman at the opening of the proceedings of the first year of the 8th session of the Shura Council on November 11, 2020. He said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been keen, since the establishment of OPEC, to stabilize global oil markets. The evidence is that the Kingdom played a key role in establishing and maintaining the OPEC Plus group agreement, as a result of the Kingdom’s initiatives aimed at accelerating market stability and the sustainability of its supplies. The kingdom has also worked, and is still working, to ensure the stability of oil supplies to the world in a way that serves producers and consumers alike despite the economic conditions that the world is experiencing today due to the Coronavirus pandemic “COVID 19” and its repercussions on the global oil markets.”

The Saudi oil policy includes the following points:

1. The Kingdom plays a key role in the progressive growth of the global economy, and the economies of developing countries, as it possesses a quarter of the world's oil reserves, and maintaining maximum productivity

2. The economy of Saudi Arabia is one of the top twenty economies in the world, the first in the Middle East and the Arab world, and it acquired a quarter of its gross domestic product

3. The Kingdom's entry into the G20 represented an increase in its influential role in the global economy in addition to the high volume of its international trade and its impact on global trade

Furthermore, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia assumed the 2020 G20 Presidency at a time when a major transformation is occurring in the global scene as a result of social, environmental, technical and demographic changes. Besides, the G20 leaders ’summit on November 21-22 will focus on protecting lives and restoring economic growth.

Sixth: The Regional Terrorism Circle

Despite Iran's long track record of sowing discord and unrest and disseminating terrorism in the Arab region with the aim of destabilizing its security and stability since its revolution in 1979, the Kingdom was keen to exercise a policy of restraint throughout this period. The countries of the region and the world suffered from these aggressive policies throughout this long period.

  These aggressive policies have recently increased including the intervention, directly or indirectly by recruiting militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. Iran also provides safe havens for terrorism and terrorists on its land. It also creates terrorist cells in a number of Arab countries, assassinates opponents abroad, and violates the legal rights of the diplomatic missions along with its nuclear program that has a negative impact on the environment, the security and stability of the region. All theses aggressive policies prompted the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to pursue a decisive policy in face of this increasing terrorism. The Kingdom also praised the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement that was followed with the US’s powerful sanctions on Iran.

 At the opening of the proceedings of the first year of the 8th session of the Shura Council on November 11, 2020, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques stated that some countries seek to impose their political influence and extremist ideology in the region. He said: “The countries of our region face many attempts by regional powers that seek to impose their political influence and extremist ideology to serve their own interests. These powers pay no attention to the international norms or do not respect the rights of neighbors. This intransigent aggressive approach is responsible for many problems that hit the region. The Kingdom affirms the danger of the Iranian regional regime's project and its intervention in the internal affairs of the region’s countries together with supporting terrorism and extremism. The Kingdom calls for the need for a firm stance by the international community in face of these aggressive interventions and halting Iran’s ballistic missile program that destabilizes international peace and security.”

In conclusion, we can be certain that Saudi foreign policy in the reign of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, shifted from flexibility and overlooking some positions and policies to the decisive confrontation and strong dealing with the serious transformations at the regional and international level. Therefore, observers notice that Saudi foreign policy during the reign of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has taken a new and significant dimension in the foreign policy space of the Kingdom and the Arab region.

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