DUBAI: Saudi Arabia and Iran on Friday agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies within two months following years of tensions between the two countries.
“In response to the noble initiative of His Excellency President Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, of China’s support for developing good neighborly relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” a statement carried by Saudi state news agency SPA said.
“The three countries announce that an agreement has been reached between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“That includes an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months, and the agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states,” the statement said.
The agreement came following talks that took place from Monday, March 6 to Friday, March 10 in Beijing, SPA reported.
The two are committed to a meeting between ministers of foreign affairs of both countries to implement the agreement, arrange for the return of their ambassadors and discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations.
Riyadh and Tehran also agreed to activate the security cooperation agreement signed in 2001 and the trade, economy and investment agreement signed in 1998, according to the agreement text.
The agreement was signed by Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, and Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Musaed bin Mohammed Al-Aiban.
“The Kingdom’s leadership welcomes the initiative of His Excellency President Xi Jinping, based on the Kingdom’s consistent and continuous approach since its establishment in adhering to the principles of good neighborliness, taking everything that would enhance security and stability in the region and the world, and adopting the principle of dialogue and diplomacy to resolve differences,” Al-Aiban said.
“While we value what we have reached, we hope that we will continue to continue the constructive dialogue, in accordance with the pillars and foundations included in the agreement, expressing our appreciation for the People’s Republic of China’s continued positive role in this regard,” he added.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Twitter: “The resumption of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran stems from the Kingdom's vision based on preferring political solutions and dialogue, and its keenness to perpetuate this in the region.”
He continued: “The countries of the region have one destiny and common denominators that make it necessary for us to join together to build a model of prosperity and stability for our peoples to enjoy.”
Director of China's Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, Wang Yi, said the talks were a victory for dialogue and peace.
“This is a victory for dialogue, a victory for peace, offering major good news at a time of much turbulence in the world,” the Chinese foreign ministry cited Wang as saying at the close of the dialogue.
“As a good-faith and reliable mediator, China has faithfully fulfilled its duties as the host,” Wang said.
China would continue to play a constructive role in handling issues in the world and demonstrate its responsibility as a major nation, he added.
Saudi FM, Solomon Islands PM discuss ways to develop joint cooperation
Updated 10 June 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, and his accompanying delegation during their official visit to the capital, Riyadh, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
At the beginning of the reception, Prince Faisal conveyed greetings from King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Sogavare, and their wishes for continued stability, progress and prosperity to the government and people of the Solomon Islands.
The two side reviewed the bilateral relations and ways to enhance and develop them in various fields, and discussed intensifying joint coordination on many issues of concern to both countries, the ministry said in a statement.
They also discussed opportunities for economic cooperation in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2023, and exchanged views on international developments.
‘Banan’ event weaves local, international heritage in Riyadh
Handicrafts Week highlights community-building aspect of multinational crafts, including woodworking, blacksmithing, weaving and embroidery
Updated 09 June 2023
RIYADH: A handicrafts event in Riyadh is shedding light on local and international heritage passed down from one generation to the next.
Titled “Banan,” meaning fingertips in Arabic, the Saudi International Handicrafts Week is highlighting the community-building aspect of multinational crafts, including woodworking, blacksmithing, weaving and embroidery, among others.
The event, which kicked off on Tuesday, will run until June 12 at Riyadh Front.
“There’s no doubt that handicrafts play an important part in economic and cultural projects, and are a factor for creating job and investment opportunities, in addition to their role in preserving cultural heritage and strengthening national identity,” Saudi Deputy Minister of Culture Hamed Fayez said.
The event also invites craft enthusiasts to engage in hands-on workshops throughout the week, gathering centuries of collective stories and legacies from across the globe in one platform.
From Mexico, Regina Velasco Marin and Alberto Lopez Gomez are highlighting the tradition of weaving, filigree design and openwork embroidery techniques using existing cotton materials, like clothing or drapes. The fabric is undone, and cotton threads are reused to create unique patterns and wearable pieces on a backstrap loom.
“I’m proud to be representing five generations of artisans, from my great grandmother to myself. It’s so surprising that my culture has expanded and reached Saudi Arabia. I’m very thankful to my mom for teaching me all of this, and I’m especially proud of her and my grandmother now that I’m here,” Marin told Arab News.
Pottery artist Zaki Al-Gharrash, from the Eastern region of the Kingdom, showcases the unique soil that characterizes the governorate of Al-Qatif and gives off the pale green hue in pottery production.
Fahad Al-Shammary from Hail uses the stems of Saudi’s national treasures, palm trees, to craft unique doors for interior decorating and miniature ones for gifting.
“This was a hobby first that turned into a profession. If it wasn’t for my love and passion for it, I wouldn’t have kept pursuing it, because it is tiring,” Al-Gharrash said, demonstrating the elongated process, from extracting soil from deep underground, to drying out the product, then working it to clay.
While his father, years ago, made clay pans and water coolers out of necessity, people now look for antiques, driving the craft’s demand. More people are also recognizing the benefits of drinking from clay cups.
“(It) actually revives its qualities, making water more alkaline and healthier for humans, and gives it life again after it dies in plastic. It also keeps it cool, especially in the desert,” the artisan said.
While the profession has become commercialized, it takes an artisan to preserve the unique qualities of pottery during production.
Fahad Al-Shammary from Hail uses the stems of Saudi’s national treasures, palm trees, to craft unique doors for interior decorating and miniature ones for gifting. Utilizing the abundance of palms on his family farm, he has managed to take part in a profitable hobby for 15 years and counting.
“This event brings together all the cultures of the north, south, east, and west and its heritage … it’s our ancestor’s, so we have to preserve it,” he said.
Banan is an opportunity for artisans to educate others on the history of their regions and also sell their products through 11 sections of the space.
Italian handcraft store Lisa Tibaldi Terra Mia attracts customers with the charm of its story. The store’s modern jewelry utilizes plants sourced from the Aurunca land, located between Naples and Rome. “After a (special process), they can be made into a jewel, into a semi-precious material,” Ludovica Zanon, a representative of the business, told Arab News.
The store also carries a collection of authentic silk scarves influenced by the natural palette of the region, with some of the collections delicately printed in native butterflies and ocean waves. A home decor line by Lisa Tibaldi Terra Mia also champions sustainability using 3D printing and biodegradable organic materials.
Zanon said: “Our vision is in strict contact with our territory, so we like to make and craft all our things (sustainably) in Italy because we want to help our territory and make it valuable and not waste our land.
“It’s (very emotional) for me to come here and represent my country and city because Aurunca land is a small territory between Rome and Naples, so it’s important to us to bring our land here and be proud of that.”
Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Islands offer rich biodiversity and ecotourism potential
Farasan is made up of more than 170 islands and islets off the Kingdom’s coast of Jazan
These hidden gems of the Red Sea are host to ancient sites and diverse marine habitats
Updated 5 min 21 sec ago
Rebecca Anne Proctor
RIYADH: Located in the pristine turquoise waters of the Red Sea, roughly 50 km west of the Saudi port city of Jazan in the southwest corner of the country, is an archipelago made up of about 170 islands known as the Farasan Islands.
Long the subject of fascination, not least for their natural beauty but also their rich history dating back to the ancient Romans and the time of Ottoman rule over the Arabian Peninsula, the Farasan Islands are considered a rising star by the Kingdom’s tourism industry.
“Saudi has more than 1,300 islands spotted across its coastlines,” a spokesperson for the Saudi Tourism Authority told Arab News. “As part of Vision 2030, Saudi is working on a number of ambitious island projects with sustainability at the heart of preserving these natural wonders.”
A paradise for divers, the archipelago’s coral islands offer precious opportunities for the study and appreciation of marine biodiversity.
The coastlines and islands of the Red Sea are characterized by a variety of ecosystems, including red and black mangroves, seagrass beds, coral, saltmarshes and macroalgal reefs.
The islands are composed of reef limestone, rising to elevations of between 10 to 20 meters above sea level. The highest point among the islands reaches some 75 meters above sea level.
The coastlines surrounding the islands are covered in pristine white sand made from powdered coral and seashells, while their waters are home to a variety of fish and other sea creatures, including whales, dolphins, green and hawksbill turtles and manta ray.
On dry land, the local fauna includes the largest population of Idmi gazelle in the Kingdom, sooty falcon, white-eyed gull, osprey and Red Sea Noddy birds, among others. Additionally, the islands are home to numerous rare and endemic species of plant, including endangered red mangrove trees.
In 1996, the “Juzur” Farasan, as the islands are also known, were declared a protected area by royal decree, thereby recognizing them as one of the Kingdom’s most treasured natural assets.
The Farasan Islands Protected Area includes more than 84 islands, the largest of which is the Farasan Al-Kabir, or Greater Farasan, followed by the Saqid, or Lesser, Farasan and Qummah — all of which are inhabited by people working in fishing and producing millet and maize.
Officials managing the protected area are building on extensive research and fieldwork to preserve both marine and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as animal and plant species, many of which originate from the Tihamah coastal plain of western Saudi Arabia.
Included in the protected area program are educational talks and campaigns to help raise awareness about the importance of preserving the area for fishermen, farmers, schools, local leaders and young people.
The area is part of the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Additionally, the Saudi Wildlife Authority has developed a plan to oversee and maintain the rich biodiversity of the islands.
In March 2021, the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves welcomed the first nomination dossier from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of “Juzur” Farasan as a biosphere reserve.
The nomination was approved by the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme on Sept. 15, 2021, during the commission’s session held in Abuja, Nigeria, marking the first time the MAB-ICC had met in Africa.
Underway are several projects to develop the area for ecotourism, including its various natural and cultural heritage sites and numerous archaeological sites that reflect the history of the area. Several civilizations, including the Romans, visited and occupied the islands.
In August 2022, Saudi Arabia’s Heritage Commission announced the discovery of several structures and artifacts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries following extensive excavation work by a joint Saudi-French team.
The pieces included Roman folded armor made of copper ingots and armor known as “lorica squamata,” which was frequently used during the Roman era between the 1st and 3rd centuries.
Archaeologists also found an inscription of garnet for “Genos,” a renowned Roman figure in the Eastern Roman Empire, and the head of a small stone statue.
The Saudi-French team has made several exploratory trips since 2005, and has uncovered architectural and archaeological remnants dating as far back as 1400 BC. Such discoveries underline the importance of the ancient ports that once controlled the marine trade routes of the Red Sea.
Such archaeological discoveries also demonstrate the importance of the Farasan Islands and the mainland in ancient times as a crucial meeting point for trade and cross-cultural exchange.
Now, with the Kingdom’s borders open to global investment and visitors and with numerous giga-projects underway, the Farasan Islands have the potential to become one of Saudi Arabia’s top tourism destinations.
While upscale hotels and resorts are still under construction as part of the Red Sea Project, a trip to the Farasan Islands can be an enriching journey of leisure and discovery in a still largely untouched region of Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi is something of the last frontier in terms of tourism and I certainly felt that last year when I went and wanted to take a weekend trip outside of Riyadh,” Ciara Philips, a British expatriate, told Arab News.
“I chose the Farasan Islands and booked FlyNas flights to Jazan, leaving after work on Thursday and arriving back early evening on Saturday. The flight schedules worked perfectly.”
Philips, who moved to Riyadh at the end of 2020 to accept a job in cultural strategy, said that she found it difficult to find “concrete information about the islands, other than what is on VisitSaudi and blog posts from other intrepid expats.”
At the last minute, just a day before setting off, she found a weekend trip with Masarat Tours. In Jazan she met a local guide and spent two days with him and two girlfriends who had traveled from Jeddah.
Together they went to a small fishing harbor where they explored the mangroves by boat and various tiny islands inhabited by birds, crabs and other native species.
“It was magical,” said Philips. “Totally Robinson Crusoe. I had bought a snorkel and mask the day before and explored the warm, still waters, finding all sorts of brightly colored shoals of fish. There were pelicans swimming in the sea and the shells on the beach were enormous.”
Over the course of her two-day trip, Philips says that she saw barely anyone besides her friends and their guide — an ideal break from the busy, sweltering and dusty streets of Riyadh during July.
“I learned a few more words of Arabic, but better still was the truly contemplative time exploring the seas and the many uninhabited islands of Farasan,” she said.
As Saudi Arabia continues to diversify its economy, these pristine islands, so sparsely populated and so rich in nature and wildlife, constitute an ideal resource in the Kingdom’s quest to become a global hub for sustainable tourism.
Saudi digital artist adapts video-game heroes with Arabian elements
Mosques, falcons and Arabic typography used in her work
Also produces original art for YouTube channels and books
Updated 09 June 2023
RIYADH: Saudi digital artist Jewmana Al-Jifri has carved a niche for herself in the gaming and anime industry with illustrations marked by elements drawn from Arab culture.
Al-Jifri, 32, forayed into the world of illustration by chance. “My father’s gift of a tablet to me in 2009 marked my accidental introduction into the world of digital art. I used to be a traditional painter, but after getting the tablet, I committed all of my time and energy to mastering digital sketching,” Al-Jifri told Arab News in a recent interview.
Over time, Al-Jifri’s passion for video games inspired her to seek greater creativity in her work. Her illustrations are inspired by video-game heroes and characters from “Final Fantasy” and “Assassin’s Creed.”
One of her reworkings is a character from “Assassin Creed” seen with a sambosa, a popular snack that Muslims consume during iftar in Ramadan in the Gulf. She also uses mosques, Arabian falcons and Arabic typography to give her illustrations a Middle Eastern look.
“My mother is a superb artist, and she gave me the inspiration to start drawing when there was no current technology available. I learned to draw exclusively (from) the TV screen. And as the years went by, video games became a major source of inspiration for me because they offer more intricate drawings than cartoons do in a variety of different aspects, such as costume and character design.”
Al-Jifri’s all-time favorite is “Assassin’s Creed” because she considers it different from other video games. “It tells a lot about (real) historical stories and events that are mentioned in the history books.
“It allows players to see famous historical cities and monuments in various eras such as Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and Santa Maria del Fiore in Italy and Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul.”
Al-Jifri started displaying her work on social media, and in 2021, joined the official Assassin’s Creed Rebellion Community Server on Discord as she was eager to have her work recognized by the gaming community.
Al-Jifri started displaying her work on social media, and in 2021, joined the official Assassin’s Creed Rebellion Community Server on Discord as she was eager to have her work recognized by the gaming community.
The community allows players of the game to network, compete in challenges, and provides a platform for talented individuals to showcase their creative skills.
She published her first work on the community’s network in May 2021, “thanks to the continuous motivation from the members. In October 2022, I was selected as an interactive artist in the server to volunteer to create digital stickers for the server with the help of an artist from Malaysia, and we finished creating the posters last April.”
The poster highlights stickers that could be used by the community to display a range of emotions, from surprise to anger. It has been posted permanently on the community’s server.
Al-Jifri not only adapts existing characters but produces original work for clients, encompassing video games, YouTube channels and books.
“In 2018, some players in FFXIV (Final Fantasy XIV) knew me and offered me a commission to make a special drawing for them for their desktop. Honestly, my target back then, (by) accepting these commissions, was to pay for a new tablet and a new program for developing my digital art skills,” she said.
“I previously turned my passion into freelancing where many clients would come to me for character designs and I faced a lot of criticism, but I overcame these things and changed the concept of digital art for the better,” Al-Jifri added.
Her passion for illustrating earned her a Final Fantasy runners-up prize for one of the best shield designs for the game in 2018. “This is only the beginning and I am still developing my technical skills to do more when I get opportunities like this.”
Al-Jifri believes that stepping into the digital world is important for artists who want to get global recognition.
“This made it easier for many painters to share their work around the world, not just in one city. In recent years, I’ve gained a lot of followers and fans who inspire me with their admiration for my work, to produce more graphics of the well-known video game series ‘Assassin’s Creed,’ as a historical game between reality and fantasy that varies in its curation.”
In future, Al-Jifri wants to set up a character-design institute for creatives who want to collaborate and connect with video game developers.
US-Saudi ties strong despite differing views on OPEC+ oil production cut: Blinken
Antony Blinken said that decades-long ties remain strong despite differing views on the decision by OPEC+ nations to cut oil-production targets
He added that ‘there are important opportunities for our two countries to work together to advance some very positive issues, very positive trends’
Updated 10 June 2023
RIYADH: The decades-long strategic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US remains strong and is going through a period of “increasing convergence,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.
During an official trip to Saudi Arabia, Washington’s top diplomat told Hiba Nasr of Asharq News that the Kingdom and the US are successfully working together despite “a difference in views” over the decision by OPEC+ nations last October to cut oil-production targets.
“We’ve had a partnership together for decades that was grounded in security, in cooperation, energy and, in recent years, counterterrorism, and that foundation remains,” Blinken said.
“But what we’re also seeing — and what this visit reconfirms — is that there are important opportunities for our two countries to work together to advance some very positive issues, very positive trends.”
Blinken, who attended a Global Coalition Against Daesh conference in Riyadh this week, said the deescalation of tensions in the Middle East was a priority for both countries, but that the Kingdom and the US have also been working together well on a “positive trajectory based on interests we share” in other arenas.
This includes “collaboration between our countries in addressing some of the challenges that not only are of concern to our people but to people around the world, from health security to climate security to energy security to food security and, of course, the transition to clean energy, working on emerging technologies,” he added.
Blinken said the US is not abandoning the Middle East in the face of growing Chinese and Russian influence and is “here to stay” in the region.
“Day-in, day-out, we’re working with partners throughout the region and what I hear in almost all of my engagements is the US remains the No. 1 partner of choice; that is clear in what I hear, what we hear from all of our partners,” he added.
“And we’re engaging with them, working with them both to deal with many of the challenges (that you just talked about), which are real and urgent and acute, but also — and this is so important — on an affirmative agenda for the future; not just dealing with the crisis but actually trying, together, to build a better future for our people in the US and for people throughout this region.
“So, yes, we’re dealing with crises, we’re dealing with security challenges, but we’re also dealing with an affirmative agenda. And across the board on all of that, as I said, what I hear again and again is the US is our preferred partner. We are a partner and we’re here.”
On the issue of the recent Beijing-brokered agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Blinken said any and all contributions by countries, including China, to the advancement of peace in the region is a positive step.
“We applaud what happened,” he said. “Anything that deescalates tensions, that takes at least one problem off of the agenda, and in this case also may have the additional benefit of helping to advance a peace in Yemen, we think is a good thing.
“Of course, the Saudis and Iranians have been talking together for at least a couple of years to get to this place. We’ll see what happens now.
“If countries — including China — can play a positive role, wherever it is, in helping to advance peace, to reduce tensions then, again, I think that’s positive, that’s what we should all be trying to do.”
Blinken also praised Saudi Arabia for its role in joint humanitarian efforts and its attempts to help end the conflict in Sudan.
“We had, by the way in very close partnership with Saudi Arabia, some success in getting very limited ceasefires that were highly imperfect but did allow more humanitarian assistance to get in (to Sudan) and reach about 2 million people that otherwise would not have had this assistance provided to them,” he said.
With both sides in the conflict increasingly ignoring truce commitments, Blinked added that if neither side was serious about the ceasefire process, Washington has “tools at its disposal” to help bring about a lasting peace.