Trump administration says Moscow poses a threat by aiding Saudi Arabia’s opponents

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a lunch meeting with US President Donald Trump in the White House in Washington on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Trump administration says Moscow poses a threat by aiding Saudi Arabia’s opponents

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed ways of putting pressure on Russia in opposition to what the US sees as its destabilizing role in the Middle East.
Ahead of talks between the two leaders, in Washington on Tuesday, a senior US administration official said Russia posed a threat to Saudi Arabia’s security by aiding Riyadh’s opponents, particularly in Yemen and Syria, and by backing Iran.
“Ultimately, the discussions will center on how can we find joint ways to make Russia pay a price for its activities in Syria and its support for Iran’s missile proliferation into Yemen — all of which risks deepening this crisis and leading to major regional catastrophe,” the official said.
The official, who made the remarks in a briefing to journalists, cited “reckless missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates” and attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, as examples of Tehran targeting Riyadh, then being protected from US punitive economic sanctions by Russian vetoes at the UN Security Council.
Russian-Saudi ties have remained strong, including the first visit by a Saudi leader when King Salman visited Moscow in October.
As a result of that trip, Riyadh agreed to purchase an advanced anti-aircraft missile system from Russia, and made deals on oil production.
Washington has made little secret of the fact that it sees Russia as playing the role of both arsonist and fire fighter in its dealings with Saudi Arabia — aiding Tehran and its proxies to shoot increasingly advanced missiles at Riyadh, and then selling defense systems to counter the threat.
“The Russians are helpful on one hand but, behind the scenes, have ratcheted up the prices and ultimately posed greater threats to the Kingdom in ways that are subtly designed to undermine the US-Saudi relationship,” the administration official said.
The official said the US president would also remind the Saudi crown prince that Russia had pledged to supply Iran with advanced tanks and attack aircraft, when prohibitions against conventional weapon supplies to Iran, put in place as part of the nuclear program deal, come to an end.
Saudi Arabia, its regional allies and the US have taken an increasingly hawkish stance toward Iran, which they see as a growing threat in the region, with an overbearing influence in Baghdad, Sanaa, Beirut and Damascus.
Russian political and military backing has been central in allowing Iran, Syria and Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon and Iraq to form such a powerful bloc. Ranged against them are the US and its Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia.
Last month, Russia drew condemnation from the US and its allies after it vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have pressured Iran over the transfer of weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen.
The decision by the Trump administration to directly address Moscow’s role in talks with Saudi Arabia touches on a difficult subject for the White House.
A special investigation is currently underway into Russian interference in the US election, including efforts by Moscow to promote Trump’s candidacy and block Hillary Clinton’s election.
The probe has infuriated Trump, who insists there has been no collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who is heading the investigation, has so far secured a guilty plea for giving false testimony to federal agents from Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. He has also filed charges against Paul Manafort, Mr.Trump’s former campaign manager, and his deputy Richard Gates, and indicted 13 Russians.
The investigation, which has transfixed Washington and hamstrung the US president during his first year in office, appears to be edging ever closer to Trump himself.


‘Not impossible’ that Formula E will overtake F1, says Felipe Massa ahead of Ad Diriyah race

Updated 29 min 38 sec ago
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‘Not impossible’ that Formula E will overtake F1, says Felipe Massa ahead of Ad Diriyah race

LONDON: Felipe Massa has acknowledged the possibility of Formula E becoming more popular than its more illustrious rival Formula One, ahead of his debut at the Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia today.
The Brazilian ace swapped the roaring engines of F1 for the blistering battery power of Formula E this season, and told Arab News that the idea was not “impossible.”
“On overtaking, Formula 1, that’s a difficult question to answer. But what can I say, is that it’s not impossible. We just need to wait and see how things go, (whether) it is ‘when’ or ‘if,’ but it’s definitely not impossible,” he said.
“Formula E and electric cars are becoming ever-more present, but it will definitely be the future, even in the short-term future.
“It (the technology) has already arrived in some countries and will in other countries, too, it is the future. I think Formula E has used that mentality, even five years ago to build this (motorsport) category,” he added.
Massa, who raced for 15 seasons in Formula One and won 11 grands prix, was also positive about the potential of Formula E as it continues to expand after its inception in 2011 and inaugural season in 2014.
“It will take a little bit of time, it’s not easy to get things perfect straight away, but look at the past two years and how much the championship is growing.
“When I say growing, it’s not just with the quality of the drivers, but also with manufacturers’ teams and companies, who are really getting behind the sport.
“Look how many companies they are signing on as sponsors, on many different levels, even companies that sell fuel,” he said.
“We are even racing (this weekend) in a country known as an oil country. So, I think this shows how much this championship is growing.”
Massa also agreed with comments made by F1 director Ross Brawn, who recently said that the highest level of motorsport had become too predictable.
“Only certain racers can win in Formula One, but Formula E is unpredictable and a good example (of that) is that the winners in all past seasons have been different drivers,” he told Arab News.
The affable driver said he is relishing the new challenge that Formula E will pose to his skills and abilities, adding that with the exception of certain parts of the Monaco and Mexico circuits, each track will be new to him.
“I like a challenge, there is a lot to learn and a lot to test myself with and learning the car, working with the team,” he said.
“Even though I’m experienced in motorsport, with my 16 years in Formula One, this is a new test and I will have to start from zero.”
Meanwhile, defending Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne said hearing the words “world champion” after his name was “still cool.”
When asked about the challenge from teammate Andre Lotterer on the other side of the Techeetah garage, the Frenchman was full of praise for the German driver.
“He is absolutely one of the most talented drivers, and I expect him to be on the same level as I am and, for sure, it’s going to be a nice competition between us.
“It will be good for the team, as that will push everybody, and that is what we want as a team.”
The former F1 driver was complimentary about Formula E’s new “attack mode,” but voiced concerns about the danger the system posed to drivers on corners on the challenging Ad Diriyah circuit this weekend.