JEDDAH, 29 July 2004 — Saudi Arabia and Iraq yesterday agreed to restore diplomatic relations broken off 13 years ago, as US Secretary of State Colin Powell began talks with Saudi leaders here on Iraq, terrorism and the Palestinian issue and was due to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, also visiting the Kingdom.
Allawi told reporters that the two countries would reopen their land border, closed in 1990. “We have agreed to open up embassies between Saudi Arabia and Iraq,” Allawi told reporters. Asked how soon the embassies would open, Allawi said “from today”, but did not elaborate.
Powell, on a Middle East and European tour, met with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah shortly after his arrival. He was greeted after flying in from Cairo by Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal.
Powell’s meeting with King Fahd covered “the Palestinian issue, chiefly efforts to return the peace process to the right track, and latest developments in Iraq,” in addition to boosting bilateral cooperation, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Prince Saud later told reporters that the two sides held preliminary talks on the possibility of sending a force drawn from Arab or Muslim countries to Iraq. He also confirmed Allawi’s statement that the two countries would be restoring diplomatic ties.
In a statement released after he held talks with Powell, Prince Saud hailed the report of a US commission which investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, saying it had put to rest “false accusations” about Saudi Arabia’s stand on terrorism.
“The 9/11 Commission has put to rest the false accusations that have cast fear and doubt over Saudi Arabia,” Prince Saud said.
“For too long Saudi Arabia stood morbidly accused of funding and supporting terrorism.
“In contrast to the insinuations of the infamous congressional report ... which aimed at perpetuating these myths instead of investigating them seriously, now there are clear findings by an independent commission that separate fact from fiction,” he said. The Saudi government said earlier this week it was pleased with the report, in which the commission commended “the Kingdom’s efforts as regards the fight against terrorism.”
The report, released last Thursday in Washington, said charities with Saudi government links may have diverted funds to Al-Qaeda, but found no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials had funded the terror network.
Allawi said, in an earlier press conference, the Saudi government could play a role in Iraq’s security by monitoring their shared border, exchanging intelligence information and hunting down gangs and drug dealers, he said.
“There is a draft Saudi-Iraqi agreement to set up monitors along the border, exchanging intelligence information and detainees,” he said.
Allawi said he wanted to improve relations with former enemy and neighbor Iran. “We are working on having better relations with Iran. We have no proof that Iran or any other state is implicated in terrorist activity in Iraq,” he said.
Allawi said a decision by Iraq’s postwar US-led authorities to liquidate the army and security apparatus of Saddam Hussein had aggravated attacks in his country.
“It was a gross mistake which opened the door for different gangs to wreak havoc in Iraq,” Allawi said.
Powell is due to visit Kuwait, Bosnia and Poland after Saudi Arabia.
A senior State Department official accompanying Powell said earlier the talks will focus on “stability in the region and the fight against terrorism.”
“The more you (the Saudis) do, the better for all of us,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
He added that Powell’s visit aimed to “show support for their (the Saudis’) efforts against terrorism”.
Saudi authorities have rounded up hundreds of suspected Al-Qaeda sympathizers since a wave of terror attacks began in May 2003. Some 90 people have been killed and hundreds injured in the violence.
Powell was also due to raise the issue of reforms in his talks with Saudi officials. “In almost every meeting I’ve had with the Saudi leadership we’ve talked about reform.”
Reform and modernization are “not to be imposed by the United States” but must come from within each country, “based on their culture, history, traditions and political maturity and desires,” Powell said.
Most Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have rebuffed Washington’s “Greater Middle East Initiative” for reform, insisting that any change must come from within the region.
In talks here yesterday, Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi Al-Hafez met his Saudi counterpart Khaled Al-Gosaibi to study “ways to support cooperation and improve economic relations,” SPA reported.
Allawi was later received by the head of the Saudi Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Abdul Rahman Al-Jeraisy, during which the two studied “encouraging Saudi businessmen to invest in Iraq.”
Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadban met the head of the Saudi commission for geological activities, Mohammed Tawfiq, for talks on “oil cooperation” between the two OPEC members, according to the news agency.
Iraqi central bank governor Sinan Al-Shabibi also held talks with his Saudi counterpart Hamad Al-Sayari.
Saudi Arabia said in January it would negotiate a “substantial” cut in Iraq’s estimated $28-billion debt to Riyadh. The issue of Iraq’s debts has not so far been raised in meetings with Saudi officials.
“General issues that were predominantly political were discussed during the meetings without going into details,” said a source, requesting anonymity.
An Iraqi delegation headed by Allawi arrived on Tuesday in Jeddah on the latest leg of a regional tour aimed at normalizing ties with fellow Arab states and easing Baghdad’s foreign debt burden. Allawi held talks with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah on security along the Saudi-Iraq border and other bilateral issues. The two sides also reportedly discussed steps to stop border infiltration and arms smuggling.
Saudi Arabia is the fifth country that Allawi has visited on his regional tour, his first since taking office on June 28. He has gone to Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
SPA reported that in his meetings with the king and crown prince, the two sides agreed on Iraqi “sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and political independence,” while stressing “the necessity of assuring security and stability.”
— Additional input from agencies