British FM’s ‘proxy wars’ com­ment mis­read: Saudi

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The press took out of con­text com­ments by Bri­tain’s foreign sec­re­tary about “proxy wars” waged by long­time ally Saudi Ara­bia, the Saudi foreign min­is­ter said yes­ter­day, deem­ing the mat­ter closed. In a video re­ported last week, Boris John­son at a con­fer­ence in Rome ac­cused Saudi Ara­bia and its re­gional ri­val Iran of “pup­peteer­ing” and “play­ing proxy wars”.

A video of his com­ments was posted on the Guardian web­site. “I have no doubt that his com­ments as re­ported in the press were mis­con­strued,” Saudi Foreign Min­is­ter Adel Al-Jubeir told re­porters at a joint news con­fer­ence with John­son in Riyadh. “If you look at the ac­tual video of what was said, it was not as im­plied in the press,” Jubeir said.

The British min­is­ter was on an of­fi­cial visit to the king­dom, dur­ing which he met King Sal­man. The Guardian re­port came on Thurs­day, a day af­ter British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May at­tended a sum­mit with the lead­ers of Saudi Ara­bia and other Gulf states in Bahrain. Down­ing Street had to pull John­son back into line, say­ing the com­ments re­flected his “per­sonal po­si­tion”.

“There are no mixed mes­sages that we are get­ting from Bri­tain,” Jubeir said, not­ing that Saudi-British ties go back more than a cen­tury. “We don’t have any doubt in where Bri­tain stands, and Bri­tain has no doubt in where we stand,” he said as John­son sounded agree­ment. “I be­lieve that the mat­ter is closed,” the Saudi min­is­ter said. John­son thanked Jubeir for his com­ments. A for­mer mayor of Lon­don less than six months into his min­is­te­rial job, John­son is a col­or­ful and cap­ti­vat­ing speaker who has made a se­ries of diplo­matic blun­ders.

‘Pos­i­tive things’

Asked at the press con­fer­ence if he would apol­o­gize, John­son said he was “here to em­pha­size the friend­ship” be­tween the two coun­tries. But he added: “We be­lieve in a can­dor in our re­la­tion­ship”, em­pha­siz­ing the word “can­dor”. “And now, if you don’t mind, is the time for us to talk about the pos­i­tive things that we’re do­ing to­gether,” John­son con­tin­ued. May and the Gulf lead­ers agreed at their Bahrain sum­mit to form a “strate­gic part­ner­ship” to foster de­fense and other ties. Sunni-ma­jor­ity Saudi Ara­bia and Shi­ite-dom­i­nated Iran sup­port op­po­site sides of the war in Syria and also in Ye­men, where Riyadh has since March last year led a coali­tion bomb­ing cam­paign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. On Saturday, Tehran sum­moned the British am­bas­sador to protest against “in­ter­fer­ence” by May, over com­ments she made at the GCC sum­mit. She said her coun­try would help “push back against Iran’s ag­gres­sive re­gional ac­tions”. In a joint state­ment, GCC states and Bri­tain said that they “op­pose and will work to­gether to counter Iran’s desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties”.

Iran and Bri­tain re­opened their re­spec­tive em­bassies in 2015 fol­low­ing an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment to curb Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram in ex­change for the lift­ing of sanc­tions. John­son yes­ter­day echoed May’s com­ments sup­port­ing the agree­ment with Iran, while also cau­tion­ing that the world needs to be “clear-eyed” and vig­i­lant about Iran’s role in the re­gion.

—AFP

RIYADH: Saudi Min­is­ter of Foreign Af­fairs Adel Al-Jubeir (R) and British Sec­re­tary of State for Foreign and Com­mon­wealth Af­fairs Boris John­son (L) ar­rive for a joint press con­fer­ence.

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