Pentagon chief arrives in Riyadh as Iran tensions simmer and Russia makes moves

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper is welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Oct. 21, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 22 October 2019

Pentagon chief arrives in Riyadh as Iran tensions simmer and Russia makes moves

RIYADH: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, with tensions simmering between Washington and Tehran, and Russia seeking to boost its influence in the Middle East.
Esper is likely to meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his first trip to the key regional ally since taking office this summer, a visit intended partly to reassure Riyadh over bilateral ties.
Upon landing in Riyadh, he met the head of US Central Command, which is responsible for military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

US-Iran tensions have risen to new highs since May 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from an international accord that put limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
As reinstated sanctions put pressure on Iran’s economy, there have been a series of attacks which Washington and close allies blame on Tehran. Iran denies responsibility.
The United States has deployed about 3,000 additional military forces since May to bolster Saudi defenses, including an air expeditionary wing and air defense personnel.
Despite the additional troops, President Donald Trump’s sudden withdrawal of forces from northeastern Syria has raised questions about Washington’s commitment to allies and opened the door for Russia to increase its regional influence.
The move was criticized as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who fought for years alongside US troops against Daesh. Esper said on Monday that at least some troops might stay to deny Daesh and others access to oil fields.
A senior US defense official said the United States still wants to be seen as the partner of choice in the region and Russia was not as dependable, whether it be the level of training or the military equipment it can provide.
“That being said, the Gulf, they feel vulnerable. They feel exposed, understandably so,” the official said. “They’re having diplomatic relationships with all relevant players in the region and Russia, particularly since its activities in Syria, has shown itself to be a player in the region now.”

President Vladimir Putin signalled Moscow’s growing Middle East clout last week on his first visit to Saudi Arabia in over a decade.
LONGSTANDING ALLIANCE
Military officials from Arab countries plus the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Pakistan and South Korea met in Riyadh on Monday to discuss freedom of navigation and Iranian activities in the region.
“I am sensing a tremendous amount of discomfort in the Middle East about what the president’s moves with the Kurds means for the durability of any country’s relationship with the United States,” said Jon Alterman, Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Iran has responded apprehensively to previous US troop deployments this year. But Riyadh and Tehran have shown a willingness to talk.


Deal offers Saudi ministry staff help to own first home

Updated 2 min 14 sec ago

Deal offers Saudi ministry staff help to own first home

RIYADH: Officials of a Saudi housing scheme have signed an agreement to provide property services for staff at one of the Kingdom’s ministries.
The cooperation deal between the Sakani program and Ministry of Communications and Information Technology was inked in Riyadh and will allow for the provision of housing services to ministry employees, whether they are citizens on the lists of the Ministry of Housing or the Real Estate Development Fund.

The agreement was signed by the ministry’s undersecretary, Dr. Abdulhakim Abdulrahman Al-Yahya, and the general supervisor of institutional housing at the Ministry of Housing, Abdullah bin Abdulrahman bin Saeed.

The accord aims to speed up access to services for citizens looking to own their first home and offer special discounts for those whose monthly income exceeds SR14,000 ($3,733).

Those with salaries of less than SR14,000 will receive full profit support from the total amount of financing up to SR500,000, in addition to exemption from administrative fees through the funding bodies that will be present at the Sakani Expo held at the headquarters of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

The expo will also feature real estate developers promoting housing projects with exclusive discounts.

The cooperation agreement will allow the Sakani program to offer real estate consultancy services to provide the best financing recommendations and solutions, as well as the development of housing finance.