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 medical team saves life of Iranian Hajj pilgrim in Makkah

Saudi medical team saves life of Iranian Hajj pilgrim in Makkah
Updated 2 min 6 sec ago

Saudi medical team saves life of Iranian Hajj pilgrim in Makkah

Saudi medical team saves life of Iranian Hajj pilgrim in Makkah

MAKKAH: A specialized team from Makkah’s King Abdullah Medical City has successfully performed an emergency cardiac catheterization procedure to save the life of an Iranian pilgrim on Saturday, the Saudi Ministry of Health said.

In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency early Sunday, the ministry said that the Hajj pilgrim was taken to the hospital's emergency department when he complained of severe chest pain while he was on his way to the Grand Mosque in Makkah to perform prayers.

A digital copy of the Iranian pilgrim's Hajj tag, shared on social media by Ekhbariyah TV.

The patient was identified in his Hajj tag as Hussain Qasimi Jalmrazy, from Isfahan in central Iran.

Specialists performed an urgent diagnostic catheterization after examination results "showed the presence of blockage of more than two arteries in the heart," according to the Health Ministry.

The medical team offered to perform an open heart operation, but the patient refused this medical procedure. It was then decided to insert stents instead in the damaged arteries, enabling the patient to recover and continue his pilgrimage, the statement said.

King Abdullah Medical City, with full the support from the Saudi government, offers specialized health care for all Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.

 


Thai citizens share their joy performing Hajj

The second group of Thai pilgrims arrived at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah on June 11.
The second group of Thai pilgrims arrived at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah on June 11.
Updated 03 July 2022

Thai citizens share their joy performing Hajj

The second group of Thai pilgrims arrived at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah on June 11.
  • Arabic teacher Mamu Kayah and businessman Arong Samae praise Saudi and Thai officials for smooth journey

RIYADH: Two Thai pilgrims performing Hajj for the first time have expressed their joy at arriving in Saudi Arabia after not being able to do so because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hajj is the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I could not hold back the tears when I saw the Kaaba for the first time. If I am able to perform Hajj after this time, I intend to perform Umrah every year, God willing. Hajj means everything to me,” Arong Samae told Arab News.

Samae from Narathiwat Province, located in the south of Thailand, is a businessman who is undertaking the pilgrimage with his wife this year.

“I seize this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for its gigantic efforts by which Muslims can visit the city of the Prophet (Madinah) and Makkah once again, and I pray to God Almighty to grant it more prosperity and progress,” said Samae.

The Narathiwat Province native took a plane from southern Thailand to Madinah Airport directly. He arrived in Saudi Arabia on June 11 and left for Makkah on June 17.

“I have never encountered any difficulties; everything is organized and easy. The Thai Hajj Company supplies everything from start to finish, and the Thai government also provides support and facilities at all stages,” Samae said.

“The trip took approximately eight hours by chartered flight, and I did not expect these facilities, because I heard that the pilgrimage journey is tiring and long, starting with car transfers to the capital, then waiting for the flight for two or three days,” he said.

Samae was surprised to see how quick and seamless the process was: “Thank God, everything (was) easy … Less than 12 hours … and I was in Saudi Arabia, I thank God for that,” he said.

“I prayed to God that one day I would arrive in Saudi Arabia. I also thank everyone who serves the pilgrims, whether they are from Thailand or from Saudi Arabia,” he said.

He said that he wanted to perform Hajj two years ago but was unable to because of COVID-19 restrictions. The pandemic had “changed everything” they wanted to do, he said.

Thai native, 58-year-old Mamu Kayah, is performing Hajj with his wife this year. He is a high school Arabic teacher from Yala, a city in the south of the country.

“I am very pleased to have this opportunity, and I thank God day and night for that. And I am absolutely certain that every Muslim who has come to this pure land shares this feeling with me,” Kayah said.

He told Arab News that this was his third time performing Hajj.

“We are very fortunate to have a direct flight from the far south of Thailand, the state of Narathiwat, which is only a hundred kilometers away from my home,” he said.

“The Thai Hajj company and the Thai Hajj mission did their duty well; everything is organized and tidy, especially with the presence of electronic platforms that contribute greatly to facilitating the procedures from the first day until we boarded the plane to Madinah,” he said.

Kayah took a direct eight-hour flight from Narathiwat to Madinah’s Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport. He thanked the Kingdom and Thailand for providing these routes for pilgrims.

“I heard that organizing the chartered plane was not easy, and it can only be done with the tremendous efforts of the two countries, Thailand and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Kayah and his wife arrived in Madinah on June 12, traveled to Makkah on June 18, and will return to their home country on July 20.

“It can be said that Hajj this year is very special and completely different from my previous experience,” he said.

“For example, from when I got off the plane at Madinah Airport to my arrival at the hotel, the process took only one hour. Every step is fast and tidy, starting with the procedures in the passports, taking the luggage, riding the bus,” Kayah added.

He added that Saudi and Thai employees were available everywhere to assist. “Above all, the reception from the competent Saudi authority was very wonderful; we felt like one of the VIPs,” he said.

It was an emotional experience for him. “Indescribable pleasure, especially for a person of my age. I always cry when I stand in front of the Prophet’s Mosque and the Holy Kaaba, crying for joy, of course, and it is all thanks to God Almighty,” he said.

“The only issue that worries me and everyone is the high prices of everything; in any case, we understand very well that this thing is not in our hands, so that not only the costs of Hajj increased but in everything and all over the world. Other than that, there are no difficulties,” he said.

Thailand has a post-pandemic quota of 5,885 pilgrims, according to the Thai Embassy in Jeddah, with 3,738 having registered to do so. Before the COVID-19 restrictions, Thailand had a quota of 13,000. In 2018 and 2019, a total of 7,851 and 8,462 pilgrims respectively performed Hajj.

As of June 20, 1,120 pilgrims had arrived in Madinah on Thai Airways charter flights. Four flights arrived in the Kingdom from June 10 to 13. The other 2,618 pilgrims will travel on eight flights from June 29 to Jeddah, five of which are through Thai airways and three are with Saudi Airlines.

As the first groups of pilgrims arrived in Makkah and Madinah on Sunday, Basri Tatif, the deputy head of the Thai Pilgrims Affairs, praised the Kingdom for its organization, and said that his fellow citizens will be able to perform their rituals safely with all the measures in place.


Argentina government crises build as Economy Minister Guzman resigns

Argentina government crises build as Economy Minister Guzman resigns
Updated 48 min 20 sec ago

Argentina government crises build as Economy Minister Guzman resigns

Argentina government crises build as Economy Minister Guzman resigns
  • Inflation is running above 60 percent and the peso currency is under growing pressure

BUENOS AIRES: Argentina’s economy minister Martin Guzman resigned on Saturday, a blow to a government beset by mounting economic crises.
Guzman, who led Argentina’s debt restructuring deal with the International Monetary Fund and creditors, posted a letter to his Twitter account announcing his decision.
“I write to you to present my resignation as economy minister,” Guzman said in a letter addressed to President Alberto Fernandez. He had been minister since late 2019.
The government is facing its lowest approval rating since taking office in 2019. Inflation is running above 60 percent and the peso currency is under growing pressure. Sovereign bonds have plummeted.
The resignation leaves the ministry leaderless just as Guzman was expected to travel to Europe to negotiate a $2 billion debt deal with the Paris Club of sovereign lenders.
Investors are skeptical about the economy and infighting in the governing coalition between moderates like Guzman and a more militant wing including Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Mariel Fornoni, director of the Management and Fit consultancy, said the resignation of a key ally was a reflection of President Fernandez’s loss of power since a painful midterm election defeat last year.
“It is the chronicle of a death foretold. Ever since the loss in last year’s legislative election,” she said, adding that a militant wing around the powerful vice president had been pushing to oust Guzman.
“(The president) has lost another piece of his board, perhaps the most important, and is increasingly alone,” Fornoni said.
Guzman tellingly posted his resignation letter while Fernandez de Kirchner was giving a speech commemorating iconic former Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron.
Guzman said “there should be a political agreement within the governing coalition” to choose his successor.
The president’s office said that it did not yet know when a replacement for Guzman would be announced.
A government source who asked to remain anonymous told Reuters that Guzman’s exit was due to what he felt was a lack of political support for his agenda.
Miguel Kiguel, former secretary of finance in Argentina, told Reuters that whoever takes over will have a tough time, noting that inflation could hit 80 percent this year and there is a gap of nearly 100 percent between official and parallel currency exchange rates.
“We don’t know who’s coming, but this will be a very hot potato,” Kiguel said. “Whoever comes is going to have a very complicated time.”


Tunisian constitution committee head blasts president’s latest draft

Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
Updated 48 min 45 sec ago

Tunisian constitution committee head blasts president’s latest draft

Sadok Belaid submitting a draft of the new constitution to President Kais Saied (L) in Tunis. (AFP file photo)
  • Belaid said the final constitution published by the president contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime”

TUNIS: The head of Tunisia’s constitution committee blasted the proposed constitution published by President Kais Saied this week, local Assabeh newspapers reported on Sunday.
Sadok Belaid, a former constitutional law professor was named by Saied to draft a “new constitution for new republic,” said Saied’s version was dangerous and did not resemble the first draft proposed by the constitution committee.
Belaid said the final constitution published by the president contains chapters that could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”
The president has not commented on the constitution since he published the text on Thursday in Tunisia’s official gazette. The constitution would give Saied far more powers and will be put to a referendum next month.

 


Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash
Updated 03 July 2022

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

Tsitsipas says Kyrgios has ‘evil side’ after fiery Wimbledon clash

LONDON: Stefanos Tsitsipas said Nick Kyrgios has an “evil side” after a stormy clash at Wimbledon on Saturday in which the victorious Australian called for his Greek opponent to be kicked out of the tournament.
The bad-tempered match overshadowed the rest of the action on day six, which included the end of Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak and a routine victory for Rafael Nadal.
The mercurial Kyrgios prevailed 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (9/7) in an incident-packed third-round match on Court One.
The contest descended into mayhem when a frustrated Tsitsipas hit the ball into the crowd after losing the second set.
Kyrgios told the umpire that Tsitsipas should be kicked out of Wimbledon, recalling the incident at the US Open in 2020 when Novak Djokovic was defaulted from the tournament after hitting a line judge with a ball.
“You can’t hit a ball into the crowd and hit someone and not get defaulted,” said the 27-year-old, who received an audible obscenity warning during the match.
He kept up his verbal jousting with the umpire, clearly unsettling Tsitsipas, who was warned over the incident and later handed a point penalty for hitting the ball in frustration toward the back of the court.
The bad feeling bubbled up again in post-match press conferences, with fourth seed Tsitsipas saying it felt like a “circus.”

Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas emotes after losing to Australia's Nick Kyrgios on July 2, 2022.  (REUTERS)


“He bullies the opponents,” said the Greek, who admitted trying to hit the ball at Kyrgios.
“He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies.
“I don’t like people that put other people down. He has some good traits in his character, as well but... he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”
Tsitsipas said he wished players could “come together and put a rule in place” to curb Kyrgios’s behavior.
“There is no other player that does this,” he said. “There is no other player that is so upset and frustrated all the time with something. It triggers it so easy and so fast.”
But Kyrgios laughed off Tsitsipas’s accusations, describing his opponent as “soft.”
“We’re not cut from the same cloth,” he said. “I go up against guys who are true competitors.”
He added: “I’m good in the locker room. I’ve got many friends, just to let you know. I’m actually one of the most liked. I’m set. He’s not liked. Let’s just put that there.”

Earlier, French veteran Alize Cornet took advantage of an error-strewn performance from Polish women’s world number one Swiatek to triumph 6-4, 6-2.
Swiatek never looked comfortable in the third-round tie, losing her serve five times and making 33 unforced errors.
The 21-year-old had not lost a match since her defeat to Jelena Ostapenko in February in Dubai, winning her past six tournaments, including the French Open.
“I know I didn’t play good tennis,” said the top seed, who lost the last six games of the match. “I was pretty confused about my tactics.
“As a solid player, she used that pretty well. For sure, it wasn’t a good performance from me.”
Second seed Nadal, chasing a rare calendar Grand Slam, beat Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 to set up a last-16 match against Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp.
Australian 19th seed Alex De Minaur beat British wild card Liam Broady in straight sets and will play Chile’s Cristian Garin in the last 16.
Harmony Tan, who knocked Serena Williams out in the first round, demolished British wild card Katie Boulter 6-1, 6-1 in just 51 minutes to reach the fourth round.
Tan will next play 20th seed Amanda Anisimova, who came from behind to beat French Open finalist Coco Gauff 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 6-1 in an all-American tie.
Simona Halep, the champion in 2019, eased through to the last 16 with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Magdalena Frech.
The Romanian will next play fourth seed Paula Badosa, who defeated two-time champion Petra Kvitova 6-4, 7-6 (7/4).