Crucial for India, Pakistan to work closely to go after terrorists: Saudi foreign affairs ...

Crucial for India, Pakistan to work closely to go after terrorists: Saudi foreign affairs Minister Adel Al-Jubeir

Relationship with India is strategic, historic and critically important to us; Pakistan is also a friendly nation to us, he says.

After visiting Pakistan and India in quick succession, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeirin an interview, called for “de-escalation” of tensions between the two neighbouring countries in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack. Notwithstanding strong words from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on making Pakistan accountable, the Saudi delegation to India, led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and comprising Mr. Al-Jubeir, has clearly signalled Riyadh aims to maintain the balance in its ties in the region.

You have said the Crown Prince hopes to de-escalate tensions in the region. Did he discuss this with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and how do you see the situation in the region after the talks?

I did not say we would de-escalate tensions, but that we hope the situation can be de-escalated and that the two sides can sit at the table and resolve their differences peacefully. We have friendly relations with Pakistan and friendly relations with India, and our relations are historic. We see India as one of our eight strategic partners in implementing our vision 2030.

Over the past two years, bilateral trade between our two countries almost doubled to $28 billion and I think that is just the beginning. The total amount of investments we are looking at in India exceed $100 billion, including $44 billion to build the largest refining complex in the world. We are looking at a number of projects that could have a value of $26 billion in the next few years. We have a public investment fund investing in India, through Softbank we have invested $10 billion and that is just a beginning. We also have a huge Indian investment in Saudi Arabia, 2.7 million Indians live there, and the relationship with India is strategic, historic and critically important to us.

Pakistan is also a friendly country to us, and we believe that stability and prosperity in Pakistan helps the region, so we have great ties with both countries and if our friends want us to play a role [between them] we will consider it.

But we will not insert ourselves in the middle of the conflict between the two countries even though both are friendly to us. HRH [His Royal Highness] made this point to Indian officials and said both countries are important to us and if you want us to do something, we will consider that.

After the meeting with PM Modi, the Crown Prince called on all countries to end terror financing. Yet, you are here a week after the Pulwama attack. The leader of the organisation [Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar] that has claimed credit lives openly in Pakistan, and was seen being released in exchange for hostages 19 years ago. So, will Saudi Arabia make specific requests to Pakistan on this case?

We have communications with India through security channels dealing with counter-terrorism, intelligence and with regards to pursuing and extraditing subjects, which have been very helpful to both our countries in fighting terrorism and extremism. Those conversations are ongoing, but in the security channel, not the diplomatic channel.

Diplomatically too, there was a reference in the joint statement with Pakistan that the UN listing regime should not be politicised. Your next stop is Beijing, a country that is holding up the listing of [Azhar] and the question is why would you make this reference?

The idea was that listings in general should not be politicised… we don’t mean that a known terrorist should not be listed.

Politicising listings means picking up names of people at random and saying, this is a terrorist, designate, designate. Because, so many countries would want other countries to be designated this way. So that was the meaning of politicisation, not the one case you referred to.

At the end of your visit and talks in India and Pakistan, how do you see the situation… are you worried about a possible conflict?

I hope not. I think the leadership in both countries are wise. We have a lot of respect for Prime Minister Modi and we have a lot of respect for Prime Minister Imran Khan and that the two leaders would be able to de-escalate and avoid any conflict. We also believe that it is important for the two countries to work closely together to go after the terrorists and those who finance them.

You spoke of investment in oil. India sources about 17% of its oil from Saudi Arabia, but also has a dependence on oil from Iran. In your talks, did you raise your demand for India to lower its oil off-take from Iran, and did you receive any assurances?

There are US sanctions on buying oil from Iran already and those sanctions apply to the whole world with targets which will be reduced after the six-month [waivers] expire.

We have been steady, reliable suppliers of crude oil to India, and we also invest in India. We are building the largest petroleum refinery and complex in the world, with Indian partners, looking at storage facilities, at making India our energy hub for the region, and invest in infrastructure.

It is not just a buyer-seller partnership; it has been elevated to a strategic partnership on energy. That is not something Iran can do. They don’t have the capacity, knowhow or legal structure, and they have been shunned by the whole world.

I think it is natural that purchases of crude oil from Iran [by India] will drop and purchase of Saudi Arabian oil will increase. But I would never presume to tell a sovereign country what it should and shouldn’t do.

India has not, as you said, shunned Iran. In fact it is increasing its investment in Chabahar, even as Saudi Arabia increases investment in Pakistan’s Gwadar port. Do you worry about rival axes being built with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on one side and Iran and India on the other?

No, I don’t. We stand with India and we stand with Pakistan. Our relationship with India goes back thousands of years… we have cultural, geographic trade ties and we have been neighbouring civilizations without any conflict. The relationship goes way before the state of India was established or the state of Saudi Arabia was established.

There has been growing concerns over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and especially over the implication of officials in his brutal murder. How will your government assure the world that journalists are not being targeted in this manner by your government?

Look, as soon as reports came in, His Majesty the King and the Crown Prince ordered an investigation, the public prosecutor determined that there was a killing and once he gathered evidence filed charges against 11 individuals, seeking the death penalty for five of them.

So we have a mistake that was made, we acknowledged it, put those responsible on trial and we will punish them. The Crown Prince has also ordered a review of the institutions from which these individuals came to ensure more checks and balances. This is what governments do.

In the U.S., Oliver North was found to have been involved in the Iran-Contra deal, and he was sentenced. Same with Abu-Ghraib [prison torture case]. We can assure the world that Saudi Arabia doesn’t kill journalists, and this kind of case has not happened before.

You have dissenters and activists like Rauf Badawi in prison, however…

No.. all those cases are of prisoners being tried by the legal system.

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