Frankly Speaking: Ex-CIA official Norman Roule on how Biden’s visit could fix Saudi ties, and why it’s important to do so

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Updated 19 June 2022

Frankly Speaking: Ex-CIA official Norman Roule on how Biden’s visit could fix Saudi ties, and why it’s important to do so

Frankly Speaking: Ex-CIA official Norman Roule on how Biden’s visit could fix Saudi ties, and why it’s important to do so
  • Visit an opportunity for POTUS and officials to see changes first-hand and build communication channels
  • Kingdom not to blame for soaring oil prices in US, criticisms on handling of Yemen are excessive
  • More efforts needed to tell Saudi story in US; many only see Kingdom in terms of 9/11, Khashoggi and oil

RIYADH: President Joe Biden’s upcoming July tour of the Middle East can repair his country’s relations with Saudi Arabia, something very important for the US to achieve, according to former senior CIA operations officer and Middle East expert Norman Roule.

The visit could not only have a major impact on US-Saudi and regional long-term ties, but also lead to the building of a relationship that will help both countries achieve their long-term goals, Roule told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News talk show that features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders.

Despite soaring fuel prices and quickening inflation in the US, the White House has denied that Biden’s visit will focus primarily on oil, a sentiment with which Roule agrees.

“The US and Saudi Arabia have multiple issues on areas ranging from green energy to space that will be important parts of the discussions that take place in Riyadh,” he said.

An Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC ministerial meeting in early June resulted in a pledge to increase oil production by 50 percent in July in order to alleviate the sharp rise in fuel prices.

Various other issues on the table include the waterways which surround Saudi Arabia that are vital to the functioning of the US economy, such as the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Arabian Gulf.




Former senior CIA operations officer and Middle East expert Norman Roule speaks with Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News talk show. (AN photo)

Agriculture and food security, both regionally and in Africa, where Saudi Arabia’s influence is growing, and the fight against extremism will also be on the agenda.

“These issues just don’t get much press because I think they sound a little more boring than oil and gas prices and some more simplistic challenges,” Roule said.

Still, many argue that oil is the elephant in the room as Biden prepares to make his visit to a country that some Americans view as a giant gas station. Some imply that Saudi Arabia, as the largest and most profitable OPEC member, is somehow to blame for the recent surge in prices. Roule disagrees.

“President Putin deserves a fair amount of the blame,” he said. “Saudi Arabia has a role, but I wouldn’t overstate that.”

He said many other factors, including the cessation of Russian shipments of oil, gas and coal to Europe and rapid economic growth as the world’s economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, are playing their part.

He added: “There has been a failure of capital investment in the US and in other countries. We have an explosive growth of the economy as a result of our economic policies and coming out of COVID-19.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the upcoming Biden visit, according to Roule, is that “the economic goals of the US government and the Saudi government are almost identical.”

Aside from the more trans-global trade issues, both the US and Saudi Arabia are working to improve infrastructure and support the growth of their respective middle classes.

Roule thinks protecting the achievements of both countries is of great importance. “Each party wishes to avoid any conflicts in the region that might produce devastating conventional wars that would set back those economic and social gains,” he said.

“We need Saudi Arabia’s cooperation, partnership, and also to see how we can support Saudi Arabia’s own initiatives to prevent extremism throughout the Islamic world.”

On a more individual level, Roule said, “you’re going to have the president of the US and his vast staff see first-hand what life is like in Saudi Arabia. That will be powerful.”

“You are going to have a personal relationship potential between the president and all of the actors he meets on this trip, to include the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Roule believes such a personal relationship between the two leaders has the potential to “see channels of communications and structures set up so that they can continue these discussions to build on this and actually achieve the goals these meetings were supposed to create in the months that follow this meeting.”

While Roule believes the US leadership respects the Kingdom’s ambitions for reform and challenges it faces in doing so, a wider audience “generally sees the Kingdom in terms of the 9/11 issue, the Jamal Khashoggi murder, and the oil issue.”

Saudi media must do more to counter these stereotypical images of the Kingdom, Roule said, adding that other Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Qatar have 24-hour broadcasting stations which American television viewers can watch.

He suggests that a Saudi 24-hour television station could “show life in a flat, nonpartisan, non-political way.”

Just as Saudi Arabia is not without its faults, a potential Biden visit to Saudi Arabia is not without its detractors. Those who criticize the trip highlight human-rights issues and the now seven-year war in Yemen.

Roule calls these reservations “excessive,” saying that “I have spoken with many Saudi officials who have assured me, to my satisfaction, frankly, that they are trying to do everything they can to limit civilian casualties.”

He added: “I would stress that the Biden administration itself, in its rhetoric and its political statements, has repeatedly thanked the Kingdom for its strenuous diplomatic efforts that it has undertaken to achieve a political solution to this conflict, and it has been quite a while since you have had the Biden administration criticize the Saudi government, and that is based on what I am certain is the simple view of the facts.”

Roule has no doubt that the Iranian-backed Houthis are the primary opposition to a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Yemen.

US-Saudi relations are critical to countering malicious actions by Iran, according to Roule, who spent 34 years with the CIA covering the Middle East.

For nine of those years, he was the national intelligence manager for Iran at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and he currently serves as a senior adviser to the political advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran.

Tehran may view the Biden visit as a threat, and the country and its proxies may attempt to disrupt the visit, according to Roule.




During his frequent travels to the Kingdom over nearly forty years, Roule said he has been impressed by many aspects of the Kingdom’s progress. (AN Photo)

“They are not happy with this upcoming visit, particularly with the prospect of improved air defenses in the region, because an integrated air-defense system for the region would complicate Iran’s ability to conduct missile attacks and drone attacks directly or via its proxies,” he said.

Roule called the social and economic success witnessed by the Arabian Peninsula in the past several decades “the greatest threat to the Iranian government,” adding that Tehran views the achievements of the region as “a powerful corrosive that will undermine the stability of the Islamic Republic.”

In his opinion, Iran is attempting to cement its hegemony in the Arab world by force, belying former US President Barack Obama’s claim in an interview with The Atlantic magazine that Saudi Arabia and Iran finding a way to “share the neighborhood” is the best way to institute a “cold peace.”

Despite the obstacles that Iranian proxy force Hamas is creating with the intent of hindering an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Roule believes Saudi Arabia could have an effective role in a peaceful solution to the conflict.

As a guest in a previous episode of Frankly Speaking, Issawi Frej, Israeli minister for regional cooperation, said the “Saudi leadership would be central to any solution in the future.” 

Roule concurred, saying: “The Kingdom has repeatedly said it supports a two-state solution, and once the Palestinian issue is resolved and some legitimate concerns and requirements of the Palestinians are resolved, it would see greater engagement with Israel, which it accepts as a part of the region.”

During his frequent travels to the Kingdom over nearly forty years, Roule has been impressed by many aspects of the Kingdom’s progress, and remains positive that such a visit could have a deeper impact on how the world views the country.

“The history of the Kingdom is more open than it has ever been, to include the pre-Islamic history,” he said.

“I have been struck by the number of contacts I have in the American business community who have told me with delight and astonishment of the trips they have taken to Saudi Arabia, which are increasingly touristic in nature.”

He also praised the opening of the UNESCO World Heritage site in AlUla to increasing numbers of tourists, a move which he called “the greatest development in archaeology, perhaps in the last 20, 30 or 50 years.”

Those who continue to visit the Kingdom from outside, Roule said, “come back with a magnificent appreciation of this unique geography, history, a very warm people, the similarity and values between the American people and the Saudi people and the Arabs in general.”

 


Saudi-UK business to grow ‘significantly’ under GCC trade deal, says lord mayor of London

Saudi-UK business to grow ‘significantly’ under GCC trade deal, says lord mayor of London
Updated 30 September 2022

Saudi-UK business to grow ‘significantly’ under GCC trade deal, says lord mayor of London

Saudi-UK business to grow ‘significantly’ under GCC trade deal, says lord mayor of London
  • UK-GCC free trade agreement appears to remain a priority for Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss
  • Vincent Keaveny says UK expertise will “contribute massively” to the Kingdom’s net-zero targets

LONDON: A pending free-trade agreement between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council will “significantly increase” their financial ties at a transformational moment for the global economy, the lord mayor of the City of London told Arab News prior to his tour of the region.

Vincent Keaveny, who will begin his tour in Riyadh this weekend, said Saudi investment in Britain already topped £65 billion ($69.36 billion) annually, with UK trade with the Gulf surpassing £33 billion.

“The GCC is our fourth-largest trading partner, which gives you an idea of the importance and scale of investment flows, which are two way, and I see this increasing significantly over the years,” he added.

“Saudi Arabia has great transformational plans for its own economy, and the financial and professional services here in the UK have a huge amount to offer in helping implement and support this.”

One of the oldest continuously elected civic officers, the lord mayor of London serves as mayor of the City of London and leads the City of London Corp., with a focus on representing, supporting and promoting business within the financial heart of the UK capital.

The UK-GCC FTA that was announced in June appears to remain a priority for Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss, and is hoped to generate £33.5 billion in new trade.

While hosting GCC foreign ministers last December, then-Foreign Secretary Truss stressed that “closer economic and security ties with our Gulf partners” was a priority.

Lord Mayor of the City of London, Vincent Keaveny and his wife Amanda arrive to attend the Lord Mayor's Banquet in central London last year. (AFP/File Photo)

Keaveny said: “The FTA would be a very positive statement of intent about the future relationship between the UK and the countries that make up the region, and we would support the prime minister’s ambitions to get this done and get this done as quickly as possible.”

He added: “I think with Liz Truss this will happen; she’s someone the City knows very well. We worked with her closely on the international trade agenda when she was international trade secretary and indeed, she had a pronounced focus on trade during her time as foreign secretary.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told Arab News that the FTA will be a priority for Truss.

Her focus when it comes to the Middle East, he said, would very much be on “getting the free-trade deal over the line.”

Keaveny said he would not be surprised by requirements for country-level agreements between each of the parties to flesh it out, stressing that “we’d have to wait and see” on the details.

“I take the view that free-trade agreements provide a framing context. It may be that some of the FTAs we see coming through in the next couple of years aren’t as full as we’d like them in the City,” he added.

“I’d only encourage the negotiators involved in this FTA to get it settled as quickly as possible, albeit I do recognize that this is a complicated position when negotiating with a body, like the GCC, that represents a diverse group of countries with divergent interests.”

Vincent Keaveny will begin a regional tour in Riyadh this weekend. (AFP/File Photo)

When questioned if increased regulatory alliance was on the agenda, he stressed that he was “not close enough to the negotiation to know if regulatory alignment will be the outcome,” but that greater alignment would be a positive, particularly from a financial services perspective.

“Anything that makes provision of financial services smoother, whether through regulatory alignment or the liberalization of data flows, would be welcome,” he said. “But I’m genuinely not close enough to the negotiations to know if this is a realistic outcome.”

For Keaveny, “strong, historic” ties exist between the Gulf and the UK, and he envisages “significant investment requirements and opportunities.”

In Saudi Arabia, there is the combination of its Vision 2030 plan — aimed at reducing its reliance on hydrocarbons, diversifying its economy and expanding public services — and its determination to be net-zero by 2060.

“All of this requires support, and the UK’s expertise and approach to net-zero and the financing of the transition means in many ways the City of London and the country are the thought leaders on this issue,” said Keaveny.  

“So we’ll be able to contribute massively to Saudi Arabia’s plans on this. It’s a big win as there are all sort of benefits that will flow and scope to significantly increase this, both in terms of financial assets and UK infrastructure, whether power structure or other utilities.”

Keaveny praised “strong, historic” ties between the Gulf and the UK, and said he envisaged “significant investment requirements and opportunities.” (Supplied/City of London)

Keaveny’s tour coincides with a fractious moment for the world, as the Russia-Ukraine conflict ekes into its ninth month amid growing concerns of a winter of discontent for a Europe that grew dependent upon Russian gas.

Even so, he does not see it being a major talking point for the parties involved. “Clearly the war in Ukraine has global economic repercussions, and if it comes up I believe it will be in the context of that, and on the effects it’s having on inflationary pressures around the world and on our net-zero ambitions,” said Keaveny.

He expressed excitement at the decision to host this year’s and next year’s UN Climate Change Conference in the Middle East, in Egypt and the UAE respectively.

“It’s very exciting that we have a COP festival in Africa this year and next year’s in Dubai, as it will frame a different set of discussions than the Glasgow one, and will set in motion what we need to do to finance the transition in developing economies,” he said.

“My own view, and I think it’s a view that’s shared by Mark Carney (former Bank of England governor) and John Kerry (US special presidential envoy for climate), is that the role of the multilateral development banks that define the finance institutions in this process are critical players, provided the right conditions are set.” 


Saudi culture minister meets Jordanian, Iraqi counterparts at UNESCO meeting in Mexico

Saudi culture minister meets Jordanian, Iraqi counterparts at UNESCO meeting in Mexico
Updated 7 min 29 sec ago

Saudi culture minister meets Jordanian, Iraqi counterparts at UNESCO meeting in Mexico

Saudi culture minister meets Jordanian, Iraqi counterparts at UNESCO meeting in Mexico

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan on Friday held talks with his Jordanian counterpart, Haifa Najjar, on the sidelines of the UNESCO World Conference on Cultural Policies and Sustainable Development — Mondiacult 2022 in Mexico.
At the beginning of the meeting, Prince Badr congratulated Najjar on the Jordanian city of Irbid being chosen as the Arab Capital of Culture in 2022.
He also praised the success of the Jerash Festival for Culture and Arts, and thanked Najjar for the support in organizing the “Saudi Cultural Week” in Jordan from Spet. 12-15, stressing the depth of the relations that bind the two kingdoms, their governments and people.
During the meeting, they discussed ways to intensify and deepen cultural cooperation between their two countries in various cultural and artistic fields, exchange visits and establish cultural activities, and enhancing joint cooperation in preserving their antiquities and historical sites.
Prince Badr also met with Iraqi Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Dr. Hassan Nazim, where they praised the depth of the relations and stressed the importance of strengthening joint cultural cooperation.
The Saudi minister also praised the joint efforts between the Saudi-Iraqi work teams specialized in heritage, under the umbrella of the growing cooperation between the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, calling for more cooperation in all cultural fields.
During his meeting Malaysian Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Nancy Shukri, the two sides reviewed bilateral cultural relations and ways to develop cooperation and cultural exchange.
The Saudi minister also met Burkina Faso Minister of Communication, Culture, Arts and Tourism Valerie Kabore, where they discussed opportunities for cultural cooperation in the fields of crafts and folklore, artistic residency programs, seminars and events aimed at building capacities and introducing the cultures of the two countries.
He also held similar talks with his Chadian counterpart of the sidelines of the conference.


Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and NBA launch official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and NBA launch official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022
Updated 30 September 2022

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and NBA launch official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and NBA launch official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022
  • Burj Khalifa light projection marks a week until 1st ever NBA Games in the Arabian Gulf
  • The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will feature the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena

ABU DHABI: The iconic Burj Khalifa was on Friday lit by the logo of The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 that are set to start on Oct. 6 in the capital of the UAE.
Hundreds of excited spectators gathered to look on as the logo of the historic event was displayed on the skyscraper’s façade, accompanied by a stunning light show event.
The event was held in celebration of the official countdown to The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022, the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) – Abu Dhabi and the National Basketball Association (NBA).
A countdown clock was briefly displayed with eye-catching lights beamed onto Burj Khalifa, creating yet another milestone in the history of one of the most popular sports leagues in the world.
The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will feature the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 6 and Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. GST, marking the league’s first games in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf.
The games are part of a ground-breaking multiyear collaboration between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi.
A media statement said the “NBA District,” an immersive, interactive fan event in conjunction with The NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022, will be held at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi from Oct. 5 and Oct. 9. NBA District will showcase the music, media and art associated with NBA culture. Fans will be able to engage with NBA personalities from around the world, watch authentic NBA game entertainment, enjoy hands-on basketball activities, and purchase limited-edition NBA merchandise.
Fans can purchase tickets to the NBA District and the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 by visiting NBAEvents.com/AbuDhabi and follow @NBAArabic on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates, news and content in Arabic.


Gasoline price surge fuels EV demand in Kingdom: KAPSARC

Gasoline price surge fuels EV  demand in Kingdom: KAPSARC
Updated 30 September 2022

Gasoline price surge fuels EV demand in Kingdom: KAPSARC

Gasoline price surge fuels EV  demand in Kingdom: KAPSARC
  • KSA has implemented energy price reforms to unlock economic and environmental benefits for the country

RIYADH: Growing gasoline prices will play a significant role in increasing the demand for electric vehicles in the Kingdom, according to Anwar Gasim, a King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center researcher.

“The higher the domestic gasoline price, the more a consumer may be incentivized to switch to an electric vehicle,” he told Arab News.

According to Gasim, gasoline prices in the Kingdom seven years ago were a quarter of today’s prices.

“If you look at the 91-octane gasoline, it was SR0.45 ($0.12) per liter. Today, it’s SR2.18,” Gasim said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

Since 2016, the Kingdom has implemented energy price reforms to unlock economic and environmental benefits for the country.

“Since gasoline prices ended up getting linked with the international price, the government had to put a cap on them when international prices went up very high last year,” said Gasim.

It means there is a limit that domestic gasoline prices will not surpass, no matter how high energy prices may hike internationally.

“I think it was becoming too high for people here, and then the government decided to put a cap,” he said.

According to Gasim, raising domestic energy prices can contribute to the Kingdom’s climate goals.

Saudi Arabia aims to reduce emissions and increase the share of renewables to 50 percent by 2030.

“Higher energy prices can incentivize more efficient behavior, more energy conservation, and therefore it can help save energy and reduce emissions,” he added.

KAPSARC was a part of the regulatory team led by the Ministry of Energy, which on Aug. 22 issued the completion of all legislative and technical aspects to regulate the EV charging market.

These stations will more likely charge the vehicles using the national grid. Still, there are possibilities that off-grid stations will be a requirement.

Some neighborhood distribution networks can no longer accommodate any additional load. They have reached the peak of the transformer capacity.

The only option is using off-grid solutions; renewable sources like solar and hydrogen can supply these off-grids.

Electromin, a wholly owned e-mobility turnkey solutions provider under Petromin, in May announced the rollout of electric vehicle charging points across the Kingdom.

In an earlier interview with Arab News, Kalyana Sivagnanam, the group CEO of Petromin, said that the network includes 100 locations across the Kingdom powered by a customer-centric mobile application.

Sivagnanam said that the company would set up most of its charging stations in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam and eventually branch out across the country.

Electromin’s charging network will offer a complete spectrum of services from AC chargers to DC fast and ultrafast chargers, catering to all customer segments.

The imports of EV charging equipment were permitted in the Kingdom in 2020.

As part of the Kingdom’s sustainability strategy, the Royal Commission of Riyadh launched an initiative last year to ensure that 30 percent of all vehicles in the capital would be powered by electricity by 2030.


Saudia to bring voice recognition technology, augmented reality on board: VP

Saudia to bring voice recognition technology, augmented reality on board: VP
Updated 30 September 2022

Saudia to bring voice recognition technology, augmented reality on board: VP

Saudia to bring voice recognition technology, augmented reality on board: VP

RIYADH: Saudia, Saudi Arabia’s national carrier, is aiming to integrate voice recognition technology and augmented reality to its services, the company announced during the second edition of the Global AI Summit held in Riyadh.

Saudia has signed an agreement, aimed at boosting artificial intelligence in the flight sector, with the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority and the Saudi Company for Artificial Intelligence. Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the summit, Dr. Khaled Alhazmi, vice president of IT support and operations at Saudia, said that the agreement is the first step in introducing AI products to the airline’s services.

Alhazmi explained that the company is currently exploring voice recognition technology through one of SDAIA’s products, an app called SauTech.

“It is an amazing app; it currently gives accurate results for the recognition of the dialects of the Arabic language. And right now, we are trying to explore opportunities and use cases, to start implementing it in our services,” he said.

The company is also planning to adopt Internet of Things technology as well as augmented reality to ensure that they are first movers to implement AI into their services.

“Our strategic direction is to build an ecosystem of partners who would enable us to digitize our services to our customers. We are aiming to deliver a first-class experience to our customers,” he added.

Alhazmi believes that the digitalization factor currently in use at the airline such as downloading tickets to personal devices can be greatly expanded on, and that there are huge opportunities to integrate technology into the sector.

“We are digitizing everything under a program, which is adapting the digital first. Right now we believe that we need to put in use all the data science, all the technologies nowadays, and put them into the hands of the customer,” he said. The company wants to improve its self-service options by providing a personalized platform that will enable users to customize their journey according to their needs.

“That’s actually the main goal because we understand right now that we have a new generation of people who are more interested in technology, they are using technology every day,” he added.

Saudia has also recently partnered with agritech company Red Sea Farms to provide sustainable and high-quality meals for its customers.

“We can see that the adoption of technology in Saudi Arabia in general is getting more mature than other countries,” Alhazmi concluded.