Saudi crown prince praises ‘deep relations’ with US as he meets Donald Trump

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President Donald Trump says Saudi Arabia has been a great friend to the United States and is a "great purchaser" and "investor" in its economy. (AFP)
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman meeting Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, Mar 20, 2018. (AP)
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Updated 21 March 2018

Saudi crown prince praises ‘deep relations’ with US as he meets Donald Trump

WASHINGTON: A new “renaissance” was apparent in the artfully decorated Oval Office on Tuesday — as Saudi-US ties reached new heights after the tumultuous years of the Obama administration. 
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, embarking on a lengthy multi-city tour of the US, was greeted at the White House with a warm handshake by President Donald Trump, who said the relationship between the two states is now as good as it has “ever been.”
The meeting, attended by a small but raucous press corps, reinforced the reset in the countries’ relations following tensions under the previous US administration — and shows they are edging closer in trade, defense, and security ties, analysts said last night. 
“We are the oldest ally (of the) United States of America in the Middle East — more than 80 years,” the crown prince said during the meeting at the White House, welcoming the “deep relations” between the two countries.
Speaking in English, Crown Prince Mohammed pointed out significant Saudi investments in the US.
The meeting between Trump and the crown prince came on the same day that the US Senate voted to kill a resolution calling for an end to the US involvement in the conflict in Yemen. The resolution, drafted by senators including Bernie Sanders, was defeated by a 55-44 margin.
President Donald Trump said Saudi Arabia and the US have a “great relationship” and that the Kingdom is assisting in the fight against terror financing.
“We have a zero tolerance for the funding of terrorists. And we’re working very hard, and I will say that Saudi Arabia has been working very hard on that,” he said.
He said the relationship between the nations was “very very strained” during former President Barack Obama’s tenure, but that he and the crown prince have become “very good friends in a short period of time.”
“The relationship now is probably as good as it has really ever been, and I think will probably only get better,” he said.

Talks were also expected to extend to cover Iran, which Saudi Arabia accuses of financing terrorism and meddling in regional countries’ affairs. The Kingdom’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir on Monday called the nuclear deal between Iran and Western powers a “flawed agreement,” and Trump has made clear he plans to exit the agreement unless changes are made to it.
“Iran has not been treating that part of the world, or the world itself, appropriately. A lot of bad things are happening in Iran. The deal is coming up in one month and you will see what happens,” Trump said on Tuesday. 
Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst in Washington, said that the meeting between Trump and the crown prince shows that ties between the countries are stronger.
“There is no doubt that the US-Saudi relationship is having a renaissance,” he said, adding that the two men have an “extraordinary” personal relationship.
“They probably see each other as mirror images. Trump wants to make America great again ... and Mohammed bin Salman wants to make Saudi Arabia great again,” said Neubauer.
It also emerged this week that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and US are launching a trilateral security forum to address Iran’s “malign activity” in the Middle East and other strategic issues.
The forum, to be held at the national security adviser level, will engage monthly on issues of strategic importance, including the US’ South Asia strategy, the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the war in Yemen, according to a US senior administration official.
Firas Maksad, director of the Arabia Foundation in Washington, said that the news showed that the US is looking to build closer ties with its allies in the Arabian Gulf.
“At a time of great change, both in Washington and in the Middle East, the announced trilateral security group signals US determination to coordinate more effectively with its closest Arab allies,” he told Arab News.
Crown Prince Mohammed also met today with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, according to the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
He also met with Senate majority and minority leaders, the house majority leader, the Senate majority whip, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. 
The crown prince briefed the members on the Kingdom’s plans for economic transformation through Vision 2030, including recent reforms to empower women and youth in Saudi society.

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

Updated 34 min 2 sec ago

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

  • Indian government aims to offload entire stake in debt-ridden national carrier after failed 2018 sale attempt
  • Critics blame country’s struggling economy for decision to sell airline

NEW DELHI: Renewed government attempts to find a buyer for “debt trap” national carrier, Air India, have been slammed as “selling the family silver.”

Politicians from opposition and pro-government parties condemned the move by the Indian government to offload its entire stake in the flag-carrier airline, which comes more than a year after a failed bid to sell a controlling share.

A document released on Monday said that any bidder would have to absorb around $3.3 billion of debt along with other liabilities.

Speaking in New Delhi on Tuesday, Kapil Sibal, senior leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, said: “When governments don’t have money this is what they do.

“The government of India has no money; growth is less than 5 percent and millions of rupees are outstanding under several social schemes. This is what they will do, sell all the valuable assets we have.”

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, the regional party ruling West Bengal, said in a video statement that “the government has decided to sell more family silver by selling 100 percent stake in Air India. You can well imagine how bad the economy (is).”

And on Twitter, Subramanian Swamy, parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “This deal is wholly anti-national, and I will (be) forced to go to court. We cannot sell our family silver.”

Monday’s document gave the deadline for submission of initial expressions of interest in purchasing the airline as March 17. In 2018, the Indian government tried to sell 76 percent of the carrier but got no takers.

To justify the latest sale attempt, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, said: “Despite infusing 30,500 crore rupees ($4.3 billion) in AI (Air India) since 2012, the airline has been running into losses year after year. Due to its accumulated debt of about 60,000 crore rupees, its financial position is very fragile.”

He described the company as being in a “debt trap” but added that it could be saved through privatization. “We have learnt lessons from the 2018 bid.”

Referring to critical comments from fellow BJP members, the minister said they were expressing their “personal opinion.”

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of corporate communication at Air India, said the current offer would attract potential buyers.

“India is a growth market, so anybody would like to be part of it and take the advantage. The acquisition of Air India provides the fastest way to become a global carrier,” he told Arab News.

According to Bhargava, the move had nothing to do with the current state of the Indian economy. “All the important international carriers want to expand their footprints in India because of the potential of the Indian market. The government has taken a pragmatic view on the sale of the national carrier,” he said.

“Ownership of the airline does not matter, leadership matters. Once it came into the hands of the government, bureaucracy killed it,” added Bhargava, who authored “The Descent of Air India” chronicling the airline’s downfall. “Air India under the government’s ownership cannot run, cannot survive.”

He predicted that the carrier would become a marginal player if there was no change in ownership.

Air India has a fleet of 146 aircraft and employs around 21,000 people. It was founded by prominent industrialist J.R.D. Tata in 1932 and nationalized in 1953.