Saudi FM holds talks in Baghdad, prepares way for closer ties

      Published on Saturday, 29 August , 2020      814 Views     
Saudi FM holds talks in Baghdad, prepares way for closer ties

  • Government

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud visited Iraq on Thursday before an “expected visit” by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to Riyadh.

This visit comes at a time when Saudi Arabia wants to enhance relations with Iraq and counter Iran’s influence in the Arab country.

“The kingdom looks forward to the expected visit by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi,” the chief Saudi diplomat said upon arrival in Bagdhad. A visit by Kadhimi to Saudi Arabia was scheduled to take place last month but was postponed due to the hospitalisation of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Iraqi authorities are seeking more economic ties with Riyadh, especially in the energy sector.

Iraq has serious electricity shortages and relies partly on Iran for natural gas to power its electricity generating plants.

In 2018, Riyadh offered Baghdad to supply Iraq with very cheap electricity instead of importing it from Iran.

Speaking to Bloomberg at the time, Musab Serri al-Mudaris, spokesman for Iraq’s electricity ministry, confirmed that Riyadh had agreed to build a 3,000-megawatt solar power plant — three times the size of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant — in Saudi Arabia within a year and sell the electricity to Iraq at a steep discount.

Saudis offered Iraq $21 megawatt per hour, which is a quarter of the price of Iran’s electricity exports to Iraq.

Bin Farhan’s visit to Iraq comes a week after Kadhimi travelled to the United States.

During the visit, US companies signed an $8 billion energy contract with Iraq.

“I was pleased to visit Iraq today, a country that we have deep ties with, which are taken from history and will see an ambitious future,” Bin Farhan said after meeting Kadhimi.

The Saudi minister said he discussed bilateral relations and the two nations’ common challenges with the Iraqi premier.

“I conveyed to him [Kadhimi] the greetings of the Kingdom’s leadership and its good wishes to the brotherly Iraqi people,” he said.

For his part, Kadhimi referred to Saudi Arabia as “a true partner of Iraq,” adding “Iraq is looking forward to building outstanding relations based on the deep legacy of the two countries’ historical ties.”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said that Iraq and Saudi Arabia had agreed to activate memoranda of understanding concluded by previous governments and deepen economic and investment relations between the two countries, especially in the fields of agriculture and petrochemicals.

Hussein also said the two sides discussed providing Iraq with energy as well as cooperating on energy with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

Meanwhile, Saudi Ambassador to Iraq Abdulaziz Al-Shammari met with Iraqi Interior Minister Othman Al-Ghanmi.

The two officials discussed bilateral relations and coordinating security efforts to combat terrorism and secure borders between the two countries.

Prince Faisal’s visit to Iraq is his first since he assumed the post last year.

The last time a Saudi foreign minister visited Baghdad was in 2017, when Adel al-Jubeir held talks with his Iraqi counterpart in the Iraqi capital.

Kadhimi, who was appointed in May after a massive wave of protests, was due to visit Saudi Arabia last month but the trip was cancelled after Saudi King Salman was admitted to the hospital in Riyadh.

The kingdom is seeking to ride a wave of Iraqi national pride, reinvest economically and build relationships across ethnic and confessional lines in the country, reported the Crisis Group think-tank.

The kingdom cut relations with Baghdad after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. However, reconciliation between the two countries began in 2003 after the US invasion. Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad on April 4, 2015, after 25 years.

Riyadh sent an ambassador, Thamer Al Sabhan, to Baghdad shortly after.

Sabhan, however, was forced to leave his post by Iraq less than a year later after he said Iran-backed Shia militias in the country were exacerbating tension with Sunni Arabs.

The reopening of the Saudi embassy in Baghdad in 2015 was seen as heralding closer cooperation against ISIS, which controlled territory in Iraq and Syria at the time.

Consular services were not resumed until then and Iraqis applying for visas had to go through the Saudi embassy in Jordan.

Category Government | 2020/08/29 latest update at 12:10 PM
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