Frankly Speaking: How close are we to a ‘historic’ US-Saudi deal?

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Updated 03 June 2024
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Frankly Speaking: How close are we to a ‘historic’ US-Saudi deal?

Frankly Speaking: How close are we to a ‘historic’ US-Saudi deal?
  • US ambassador to Saudi Arabia says potential agreement has the ability to fundamentally change the landscape of the Middle East for the better
  • Michael Ratney lauds Kingdom’s “extraordinary transformation” from empowerment of women and economic diversification to space exploration

DUBAI: Michael Ratney, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has said that a “historic” security deal currently under negotiation between the two countries has the potential to fundamentally change the landscape of the Middle East for the better.

Appearing on the Arab News current-affairs show “Frankly Speaking,” Ratney was optimistic the deal would both clarify and cement the decades-old relationship — based at present on verbal agreements — between Saudi Arabia and the US.

“We overuse that word ‘historic’ but it would be a historic agreement and it could fundamentally change the landscape in the Middle East for the better,” he said.
“Political cooperation, security cooperation, economic integration.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said the deal, which would see Saudi Arabia agreeing to normalize ties with Israel in exchange for closer US integration and recognition of a Palestinian state, could be just weeks away.

Despite the mutual enthusiasm for the deal, Ratney would not be drawn on the exact timeline for its conclusion, warning there were many moving parts, in particular the willingness of Israel to hold up its end of the bargain.

“I don’t think there’s anybody involved in these negotiations that wouldn’t like to have it finished tomorrow,” Ratney told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

“But since all of that is a part of this agreement and these are extraordinarily complex and detailed discussions, I don’t think I could put a timeline for it.

“There ar also other elements of it including a US Senate role and obviously the situation in Israel weighs on this as well.

“So as much as we would like to get this done tomorrow, we are going to proceed as quickly as we can, as seriously as we can. And we’re going to get this done as soon as all of the pieces fall into place.”




Appearing on the Arab News current-affairs show “Frankly Speaking,” Ratney was optimistic a Saudi-US deal would both clarify and cement the decades-old relationship. (AN Photo)

What makes the deal so significant is that it clearly sets out the parameters of the Saudi-US relationship and safeguards them against the political whims and particularities of future US administrations, lending the partnership a degree of certainty.

“That’s why it’s an agreement that would involve US Senate ratification,” said Ratney. “US Senate ratification means it is a formal agreement that doesn’t depend on a particular administration.

“It would be an enduring agreement not between an administration or a government but between two countries. And in that, that brings certainty. It brings certainty to us. It would bring certainty to the Saudis as well.”

Commentators have drawn parallels between the proposed Saudi-US deal and the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the US and Japan, signed in 1960. Asked whether these assessments were accurate, Ratney said he could not go into specifics.

“I’m really reluctant to get into those sorts of details,” he said. “Those are exactly the kinds of things that are subject to negotiations at the highest level of our government and the highest level of the Saudi government.”

He did, however, say the deal would include upgrades to the security partnership and economic relations, while also taking steps toward meeting Saudi Arabia’s demand for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“Let’s just say this would be a historic agreement that would upgrade the security partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia. It would upgrade the economic relationship. It would bring Israel and Saudi Arabia essentially into the same region. And it would bring benefits and a path to statehood for the Palestinians.

“So, that’s a lot. It’s a complex set of discussions. And I’m really reluctant to get into the details of things, some of which are still yet to be negotiated.”

The success of the deal hinges to a significant degree on Israel’s cooperation. However, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which has two powerful far-right ministers, has been reluctant to give way on Palestinian statehood and end the war in Gaza.

Ratney, who previously served as a diplomat in Israel, said there was much to be gained for the region.




Michael Ratney, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, met with Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas and other Arab News journalists during a visit to the headquarters of the newspaper in Riyadh on May 30. (AN Photo)

“I would say all the elements that we have discussed are of extraordinary value. The real value is taking it all together,” he said.

“All of those elements that have been under discussion, all of the US-Saudi pieces and the Israel and the Palestinian pieces taken together could fundamentally change the landscape of this Middle East.

“And that is the lens through which we see it and it’s certainly the lens through which the US Senate sees it and they ultimately would have a vote to ratify it.”

However, US lawmakers have been reluctant to pressure Israel to accept a ceasefire in Gaza. Asked whether Washington’s decisions could radicalize a generation of Arab and Muslim youth and create a Hamas 2.0, Ratney said careful diplomacy was required to achieve a lasting peace.

“It’s impossible for anyone who watches these scenes on a daily basis, and it’s certainly impossible for anyone that knows friends and family who have been engulfed in this conflict, not to be moved by it, and not to be motivated to find a solution as soon as possible, to find an end to the violence in Gaza, to find an end to the threats to Israeli security, to find a path to statehood, so that this sort of, for Palestinians, to ensure that this sort of conflict doesn’t resume,” he said.

“The diplomacy involved with that is extraordinarily complex, and there’s areas that we pursue, and there’s positions that we take that sometimes aren’t popular, but they’re based on our sense of the most expeditious, the most effective way of pursuing it.”

Ratney was further challenged by Jensen, who asked him whether the whole world could be wrong on Israel and why the US appears reluctant to listen to its closest allies and apply firmer pressure on its ally.

In response he said: “I think it’s safe to say that both President Biden, Secretary Blinken, all of our senior officials, have been heavily involved. This has been a major preoccupation of theirs since the outbreak of violence on Oct. 7.

“They have been in the region steadily. Secretary Blinken has been here six times since October 7, our national security adviser as well. In almost every case, that involves visits to Israel as well, where they have, sometimes, very difficult and very direct conversations.

“We have an important relationship with Israel, we have an important partnership with Israel, and we utilize that relationship and partnership to find a decent end to this conflict.”

Saudi Arabia and the US had differences of opinion on regional issues after the Biden administration took office in 2020. However, after President Biden visited the Kingdom in 2022, the differences have made way for greater convergence of opinions.

Ratney, who has been ambassador to Saudi Arabia for a year, said the bilateral relationship was already better when he took up his posting, and that there was potential for even stronger ties.




Ratney, who previously served as a diplomat in Israel was speaking to Frankly Speaking’s Katie Jensen. (AN Photo)

“When I got here a little over a year ago, the relationship felt like it was in a good place. And I do think that’s the case. And I think over the last year, it has gotten better and better as our partnership has diversified, as we’ve delved into negotiations over a potential historical agreement between our countries.

“So, if I look ahead a year, two years, three years, what I’d like is that trajectory and the speed of that diversification and partnership to continue.”

Ratney said he has been impressed by the pace and scale of change in the Kingdom in recent years, particularly the empowerment of women — least of all the lifting of the ban on women driving.

“Women driving is really the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The big change, the big innovation — and it has fundamentally changed the face of this country — is the fact that women are involved in every aspect of the economy, in every aspect of society.

“And that’s as simple as me going into meetings with senior government officials and seeing women are full participants in these discussions.

“And they’re not there as symbols. They’re highly educated, in many cases, as well-educated or better educated than their male counterparts, often at US universities. And it’s an extraordinary thing to see.”

Turning to areas of cooperation and opportunities between the US and Saudi Arabia, Ratney said there was now scope for trade and exchange in high technology and the creative industries.

“We work heavily with US companies that become intrigued by this market, to export to this market, to partner with Saudis here and invest here, and we see it in areas like not just healthcare, but infrastructure,” he said.

“Obviously, this country is making huge investments in infrastructure and US companies bring real value there. In high tech, Saudi Arabia has ambitions to become a hub for innovation and technological development.

“That in many ways is a US brand, and so US companies, whether Amazon or Google or others, are here, are interested, are involved, and are becoming partners with Saudis in those efforts.

“In the past, there was never much of a film industry here. Now we see US film and television companies interested in partnering with Saudi’s nascent film industry. That’s just extraordinary as well. So across the whole economy, we see opportunities for the US.”




Michael Ratney, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was shown a special edition of Arab News by Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas during a visit to the headquarters of the newspaper in Riyadh on May 30. (AN Photo)

Some commentators have suggested that the US has lost business to China in the scramble for contracts in the Kingdom, particularly in relation to technology and communications.

“Are there competitors: Europeans, Chinese? Sure,” Ratney said. “But I have to say, where China might bring low price to the table, what the US brings is value and it brings innovation and it brings partnership, in a way that very few competitors can match.”
Another area of future cooperation is the space sector.

“To listen to the Saudi leadership talk about it, I think, quite rightly, a space sector, a commercial space sector, is becoming increasingly a normal part of any big healthy economy,” Ratney said.

“It was Axiom Space, a US company, that put two Saudi astronauts last year to the International Space Station — an air force pilot and a microbiologist. The Saudis clearly have further ambitions there as well, and we want to be a part of that.”

He added: “Space, commercial space in particular, is the future, and it is an extraordinarily lucrative and extraordinarily ambitious future.”

Although he is only a year into his posting as US ambassador to the Kingdom, Ratney is already looking ahead to the legacy he wants to leave.

“As Saudi’s ambitions expand, whether it’s expanding and reforming their educational sector, building a larger media sector, the space exploration that we talked about, building a high-tech industry, a whole range of areas where the US and Saudi are natural partners, I would like to see a few years from that for everybody to know about that and for Saudi to be succeeding in its ambitions and for the US to be seen as its number one partner as it does so.”

 


Gaza is worst human catastrophe in modern history, Saudi envoy tells UN Security Council

Gaza is worst human catastrophe in modern history, Saudi envoy tells UN Security Council
Updated 17 July 2024
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Gaza is worst human catastrophe in modern history, Saudi envoy tells UN Security Council

Gaza is worst human catastrophe in modern history, Saudi envoy tells UN Security Council
  • Abdulaziz Alwasil says it is a sign of a broken world order caused by ‘some major powers’ putting their own interests ahead of UN’s founding principles
  • The organization is ‘shackled with procedures and rules that allow a small number of states to control the destiny of helpless peoples and countries,’ he adds

NEW YORK CITY: The global order is in one of the most dangerous phases it has experienced since the end of the Cold War, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN said on Tuesday.

Abdulaziz Alwasil blamed this on “some major powers” putting their own interests ahead of the principles on which the UN was built, as a result of which the organization is unable to uphold its responsibilities because its agencies and mechanisms are “shackled with procedures and rules that allow a small number of states to control the destiny of helpless peoples and countries.”

Speaking during a meeting of the Security Council, Alwasil said: “The blatant violations being perpetrated against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip are a prime example of the inaction of the current global order and the failure of its most important body, tasked with the maintenance of international peace and security, to fulfill the hopes that have been pinned on it.”

This, he added, has allowed “the Israeli war machine to kill and injure thousands of Palestinians without accountability or deterrence, so that the world stands witness to the worst human catastrophe of our modern history.”

In recent years the world has seen a growing number of increasingly severe crises, Alwasil said, and so it is more important than ever that a new multilateral system be established that is more fair, more cohesive, and has more effective mechanisms to help establish peace and security.

“We’re currently witnessing a phase of a transition to a new multilateral global order, whose features have not solidified yet,” he added.

“This requires us all to enhance our joint and global efforts to protect ourselves from the dangers of conflict and war, especially as we see increasing signs of fragmentation in policy and economics and digitization, and as we see increasing fears of nuclear annihilation and world war three.”

The pursuit of peace and security is the founding principle of the UN, Alwasil said, and he vowed that Saudi Arabia would continue to strive to achieve “the goals or purposes of the United Nations and the maintenance of international peace and security.”

He underscored the important need for “comprehensive reforms” of the Security Council and other UN bodies to better enable them “to perform their duties effectively and in accordance with the principles of the organization, international law and international humanitarian law.”

More than 50 states, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, attended the high-level Security Council open debate, titled “Multilateral cooperation in the interest of a more just, democratic and sustainable world order.”


Saudi crown prince receives US senator Chris Van Hollen 

Saudi crown prince receives US senator Chris Van Hollen 
Updated 17 July 2024
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Saudi crown prince receives US senator Chris Van Hollen 

Saudi crown prince receives US senator Chris Van Hollen 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received in Jeddah on Tuesday visiting Senator Chris Van Hollen, a member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his accompanying delegation.

The meeting discussed bilateral relations and cooperation, in addition to issues of mutual interest, the Saudi Press Agency said.

Saudi Minister of Defense Prince Khalid bin Salman, National Security Adviser Musaed Al-Aiban, and US ambassador to the Kingdom Michael Ratney attended the meeting.


Saudi Cabinet reiterates calls for immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza

Saudi Cabinet reiterates calls for immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza
Updated 16 July 2024
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Saudi Cabinet reiterates calls for immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza

Saudi Cabinet reiterates calls for immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza
  • Cabinet session was headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • Stressed need to activate international accountability mechanisms regarding continued Israeli violations

RIYADH: The Saudi Cabinet on Tuesday condemned the “continued genocidal massacres” against the Palestinian people amid Israel’s battle with Hamas in Gaza, Saudi Press Agency reported.

During Tuesday’s session, which was headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Cabinet also renewed calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and for providing protection for civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories, SPA added. 

It also stressed the need to activate international accountability mechanisms regarding the continued Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and international legitimacy resolutions.

The Cabinet reviewed recent meetings between Saudi and regional and international officials and stressed the importance of strengthening the existing international system to be a “strong fortress against chaos and conflicts,” as well as the need to provide a “framework for cooperation and peaceful coexistence between countries, in light of the challenges and crises the world is witnessing,” SPA reported.


Have a sunkissed and safe summer

Excessive sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging.
Excessive sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging.
Updated 16 July 2024
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Have a sunkissed and safe summer

Excessive sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging.
  • Experts advise on how you can get that golden glow and save your skin from damage, cancer

RIYADH: As the summertime rolls in, recreational tanning becomes a popular trend among young Saudi men and women who seek a sunkissed glow all year-round. Despite the allure of a bronzed complexion, the dangers associated with recreational tanning cannot be overlooked, especially if one skips applying sunscreen.

Jumana Ghassan, 25, told Arab News that she remains steadfast in her belief that sunscreen will get in the way of a proper bronze tan.

“I never use sunscreen when I tan, which is something I do every weekend, because I believe SPF does not allow me to get a golden and glowy tan.”

Excessive sun exposure can cause collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging. (Supplied)

She is convinced that by skipping this vital step in her skincare routine, she will achieve a deeper, more even tan.

Sun exposure is the number one cause of skin cancer, with cases increasing in Saudi Arabia because of the high levels of sunlight throughout the year.   

According to research conducted at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences in 2020, the two most common types of skin cancer in Saudi Arabia are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, making up 51.4 percent and 22.5 percent of cases respectively.

The proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths. (Supplied)

While sunlight exposure has some benefits, exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from tanning beds or the sun can have detrimental effects on the skin.

Oncology specialist at King’s College Hospital London in Jeddah, Dr. Ali Al-Bayer, told Arab News: “Prolonged exposure to UV rays can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to potential mutations and abnormal cell growth.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Sun exposure is the number one cause of skin cancer, with cases increasing in Saudi Arabia because of the high levels of sunlight throughout the year.   

• While sunlight exposure has some benefits, exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from tanning beds or the sun can have detrimental effects on the skin.

This damage is cumulative over time and increases the risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, he added.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

Al-Bayer said that it was crucial to try to avoid direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dermatologist Dr. Fatima Al-Satouf told Arab News that sunscreen acted as a barrier, shielding the skin from the sun’s rays and preventing damage.

“Overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays can lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, resulting in wrinkles, age spots and sagging,” she explained.

The proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths. (Supplied)

She added that by applying sunscreen regularly and correctly, people could significantly reduce their risk of skin damage and premature aging caused by sun exposure.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp.

Al-Bayer said that in nearly all cases, skin cancer appeared in areas that were most exposed to the sun.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

“It is important to choose a sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) and broad spectrum coverage to ensure maximum protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” he said.

Al-Bayer said that the use of sunscreen should be combined with other sun-safe practices, such as seeking shade during peak sun hours and avoiding unnecessary sun exposure.

Consulting with a dermatologist for skin checks and advice on sunscreen use can further enhance a sun protection regimen.

Sunscreen should be applied generously to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, arms, legs, and even the scalp. (Supplied)

“Regularly checking your skin for signs of sun damage, like freckles, moles, or sunspots, can help detect potential issues early on,” Al-Bayer said.

Al-Satouf said that it was recommended to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside to allow time for it to be absorbed into the skin.

“Reapplying sunscreen every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating, is crucial to maintain its effectiveness.”

Al-Satouf added that the proper amount of sunscreen for the face is equivalent to two-finger lengths.

In addition to sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, such as hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts, can further shield the skin from sun exposure.

Resorting to tanning beds is dangerous as they emit concentrated UV radiation that can be even more damaging than natural sunlight.

In fact, indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

To achieve a tan while minimizing the risk of sun damage, there are several strategies that individuals can adopt.

Rasha Al-Ghamdi told Arab News: “After a skin cancer scare, I opted to use spray tan to get my desired shade, and my skin has never felt this healthy and supple.”

Self-tanning products and spray tans offer a safer alternative to traditional sunbathing or tanning beds.

These products can help to achieve a sun-kissed glow without the damaging effects of UV radiation.

It is important to choose self-tanning products that contain safe and effective ingredients and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and maintenance.

Young people must prioritize their skin health and take measures to protect themselves from the dangers of recreational tanning.

By promoting sun-safe practices and embracing natural beauty, we can work toward a healthier and more inclusive beauty culture for all.

 


Kernels of promise in Asir as farmers ready for summer harvest

Kernels of promise in Asir as farmers ready for summer harvest
Updated 16 July 2024
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Kernels of promise in Asir as farmers ready for summer harvest

Kernels of promise in Asir as farmers ready for summer harvest
  • Time running out as annual summer rains loom
  • Crops are of superior quality, quantity this year

RIYADH: As the summer rains loom, farmers in Saudi Arabia’s Sarawat Mountains of Asir are in a race against time to bring in their wheat harvest.

This year’s crop is notable for both its abundance and superior quality, the Saudi Press Agency reported recently.

The wheat-cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

While some farmers still employ time-honored harvesting methods using sickles, many have embraced modern machinery, including large harvesters and handheld devices.

“Our terraced fields yield a variety of grains,” Issa Al-Waymani, a local farmer, told the SPA. “Besides different wheat varieties, we also grow barley and white and yellow corn.”

He highlighted the diverse grain production of Asir’s terraces. The region’s various types of wheat include Al-Seeb, Al-Mabia, Al-Qiyad and Al-Sumeira.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

“We know it is time to harvest when the ears turn yellow and reach full maturity,” Al-Waymani said regarding the wheat-harvesting process. After harvesting, the crops are transported to designated threshing areas known locally as Al-Jareen.

Al-Waymani said these threshing grounds have evolved over time. “Traditionally, cattle or camels would drag a large stone weighing over 100 kg over the crop to separate the grains from their husks, called Al-Hatha,” he said.

FASTFACTS

• While some farmers in Asir still employ time-honored harvesting methods using sickles, many have embraced modern machinery.

• Asir’s farmers take great care to protect their crops from birds and monkeys until the harvest is complete.

Today, however, modern methods have largely replaced these traditional practices. “Now we use large harvesters or smaller machines operated by agricultural tractors,” Al-Waymani added. “We manually feed the crop into these machines after it has been sun-dried for at least 14 days.”

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

The region’s wheat production is concentrated along the Sarawat mountain range, from Dhahran Al-Janub in the south to Balqarn in the north, the report explained.

Areas including Al-Soudah, Tabab, Billahmer and Billasmar are renowned for producing the highest quality grains in the region for traditional local markets and the summer festivals in Asir.

Asir’s farmers take great care to protect their crops from birds and monkeys until the harvest is complete. After threshing and winnowing, the crop is weighed for Zakat purposes before being marketed.

The wheat cultivation cycle in Asir, which begins in February and spans five to six months, culminates in the traditional harvest known as Al-Sareem. (SPA)

Wheat remains one of the most sought-after crops in local markets, with prices ranging from $106 to $160 for a 50 kg bag.

Scientific studies have highlighted the nutritional benefits of this local wheat, which is packed with essential fatty acids, folic acid, B-complex vitamins, and fiber.

The produce is also thought to lower cholesterol and aid digestion, the SPA report stated.