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.


G20 media committee holds first press conference in Riyadh

Updated 17 February 2020

G20 media committee holds first press conference in Riyadh

  • There will be coverage of over 135 meetings and conferences, to which end we will be creating an international media center that can accommodate up to 10,000 journalists

RIYADH: The media committee of the G20 Summit held its introductory press conference on Sunday afternoon at the headquarters of the Saudi Press Agency in Riyadh.

Both local and foreign media were invited to view the year’s schedule of events, ask the media committee questions and understand the objectives of the summit.
“Thanks to the direction of King Salman and constant support from the crown prince, the Kingdom has prepared a full schedule that will guarantee the success of this historic event,” said Minister of Media Turki Al-Shabanah.
He talked about the facilities that would be made available to the members of the press throughout the year, including an international media center that would serve as the central hub for all media activities in the summit.
“The media committee has prepared a full strategic plan to provide members of both foreign and local press with all of the resources they will need to cover the G20. There will be coverage of over 135 meetings and conferences, to which end we will be creating an international media center that can accommodate up to 10,000 journalists,” he said.
He added that media facilities would be available to accredited journalists and in multiple languages for journalists across the world.
Fahd Al-Mubarak, minister of state and Saudi Arabia’s G20 sherpa, said: “Having such a large number of media professionals really underscores the importance of the role the Kingdom plays in leading the 2020 G20 Summit.”
Al-Mubarak highlighted some of the challenges the summit was facing this year, notably the coronavirus, which he said that they were actively discussing and trying to overcome.
Fahd Al-Tunisi, adviser at the royal court and secretary-general of the Saudi Secretariat for the G20, highlighted the importance of the media in getting Saudi Arabia’s messages across.
Due to the G20’s own rules and regulations, not all of the G20 meetings and conferences will be open for members of the media to attend. However, Al-Tunisi told reporters that all of the necessary resources would be made available to them online and at the international media center, and that more press conferences would be held as necessary to bring them up to speed.