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.”

 


Saudi ambassador presents credentials to Egypt's president

Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
Updated 15 July 2024
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Saudi ambassador presents credentials to Egypt's president

Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presents his credentials as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt. (SPA)
  • Al-Husseini was warmly welcomed by El-Sisi and wished him well in his role as ambassador

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt Saleh bin Eid Al-Hosseini presented his credentials to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The ambassador conveyed the greetings of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and their wishes for continued progress and prosperity for the Egyptian people.

Al-Husseini was warmly welcomed by El-Sisi and wished him well in his role as ambassador.

El-Sisi asked the ambassador to extend his greetings to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, wishing them continued prosperity and progress.

 


Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2024
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Zest for life: Disabled Saudi artist finds expression in his work

Rakan Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Rakan Kurdi will not let his genetic condition affect his desire to create

JEDDAH: Meet Rakan Kurdi, a Saudi artist who was born with spinal muscular atrophy and is determined to navigate life, and explore art, on his own terms.

Kurdi’s journey with paints and brushes began at a young age when he joined the Children with Disability Association, a specialized school for people with disabilities in Jeddah.

He is now one of the coastal city’s most popular artists, selling works and winning many prizes.

Rakan Kurdi’s portraits of Saudi royals has earned him viral recognition on social media. (Supplied)

A graphic designer and motivational speaker in addition to his art, Kurdi spoke to Arab News about his life.

An enthusiast from childhood, he was encouraged by his teacher’s words when she told him at the age of 8: “I can see an artist in you. You must work on your talent, learn more at home and keep practicing to develop your skills.”

Speaking about the challenges he faced in school, he said: “My parents decided to enroll me in a regular school in order to associate with regular kids. Unfortunately it did not work right for me because kids at school bullied me and were making fun of me all the time. That’s why I couldn’t pursue my studies.

I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

“My greatest strength and source of motivation through all this has been my parents. They never let me feel that I lacked anything.”

After leaving school after the fifth grade, Kurdi dedicated himself to his love for painting, eventually realizing that it was his true calling.

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world. (Supplied)

Working from his studio, Kurdi is well on his way to becoming a big name in the region’s art world.

But creating artwork is no easy task for the 32-year-old, who was born with a neuromuscular genetic disorder that left him paralyzed.

However, it has not dampened his creativity. Kurdi has been painting since the age of 8, with his works being showcased in local group exhibitions.

Rakan Kurdi, Saudi artist

He said: “I am an artist; that’s how I see myself. I don’t want people to like my paintings because of my physical condition. I would like to know that my work is self-standing and impressive, regardless of the capabilities of its artist.”

Kurdi continues to live life with an ever-present smile, despite his challenges.

He added: “I have never thought my disability was an obstacle to my dream. Since I stopped going to school, I (have) just continued doing art, participated in various local exhibitions, started to sell my portraits nationally and internationally, and most importantly got married. I am so happy with my life.”

Portraits of King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Sheikh Zayed, celebrated Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo, and the late Talal Maddah helped to get Kurdi noticed.

He admits that the biggest project of his career was creating 80 by 110 cm oil paintings of the king and crown prince. His subsequent post on social media received more than 1 million views in less than 19 hours.

He said: “Definitely they are my most expensive and most important portraits.

“I also dedicated a special portrait to Prince Turki bin Salman, who really liked my work and decided to hang it on the wall of the Royal Palace in Jeddah.”

Kurdi’s paintings have won acclaim from across the country and abroad, with commissions ranging from about SR10,000 ($2,666) to SR250,000, depending on the size of the work.

Inspired by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, he said: “We both belong to the same school of art.

“Despite my disability, it’s not difficult to make a realistic painting.”

Social media has proved an important tool to promote his work. He has about 500,000 followers across Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and says he receives his orders via the platforms.

With many projects in the pipeline, Kurdi’s hands are full.

He is also continuing his work as a motivational speaker, and added: “(I) just want to inspire everyone to identify and follow their dreams, no matter the obstacles.”

Now that his work has earned recognition in the Kingdom and other Gulf Cooperation Council states, Kurdi hopes to showcase his work in London or Paris.

“It is my dream to showcase my work internationally,” he said.

 

 


Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins

Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins
Updated 14 July 2024
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Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins

Women in Tabuk eager to take the reins
  • Al-Talbi is encouraging more women to embrace equestrianism, highlighting benefits that extend beyond physical health and enhance psychological and mental well-being

RIYADH: With the resurgence of equestrian sports in the Kingdom, Saudi women in Tabuk are reconnecting with their heritage and taking the reins with skill and passion.

In a recent interview, equestrian Arwa Al-Talbi spoke to the Saudi Press Agency about the beginnings of her journey into the world of horses.

“My relationship with horses began five years ago when I read about the psychological philosophy of equestrianism, which inspired me to learn to ride,” Al-Talbi said

Saudi Vision 2030 has ushered in a new era for women’s sports, enabling them to pursue various sports, with equestrianism a standout. (SPA)

She said that equestrianism is not just a physical activity, and that there is a spiritual and mental connection inherent in one of the oldest sports known to humanity.

“My journey into the world of horses started thanks to God and the wise leadership’s support for equestrianism and the empowerment of women in various sports,” Al-Talbi added. Her love for horses and skill as a horse rider has led to her becoming an accomplished show jumper and free rider.

She is learning the sport of tent pegging, which is a “test of a rider’s skills due to its historical ties to ancient warfare.”

FASTFACTS

• The Tabuk region is currently hosting a foundation training course for the sport of preliminary tent pegging, organized by the Saudi Equestrian Federation.

• The 15-day course, held at the Al-Thunayanh stable, has attracted about 30 riders of various ages, both male and female.

Al-Talbi is encouraging more women to embrace equestrianism, highlighting benefits that extend beyond physical health and enhance psychological and mental well-being.

Another female rider, Ohoud Al-Majzoub, said her deep connection with horses is rooted in her pride in her Arab identity and a lifelong passion that began in childhood. She followed her dream of becoming an equestrian by training to acquire all the necessary skills.

Now she excels not only in free riding but also in show jumping, a discipline that demands navigating a series of obstacles, from simple vertical heights to intricate courses. Her journey is testament to her unique and distinctive sporting creativity.

In the SPA report, equestrians Raghad Mahmoud and Heba Al-Fares said that their childhood dreams of horse riding were once just hopes, because of the lack of clubs. However, Saudi Vision 2030 has ushered in a new era for women’s sports, enabling them to pursue various sports, with equestrianism a standout.

They have since learned to ride and excel in show jumping and free riding and said the availability of such sports and the establishment of dedicated clubs will ignite the passion of many women, whether in equestrianism or other sports.

Noting the growing interest in equestrian sports among women in the Tabuk region, Nasser Al-Nasser, who owns stables in the area, confirmed to SPA that there is a year-round increase in demand for the sport.

Women’s interest in the sport led him to open a special track for women with a focus on show jumping and with female trainers on hand. He added that, despite its long history in the region, equestrianism is now seen as a modern sport that has captivated young men and women alike. In Saudi culture, he said, it symbolizes courage, pride, beauty, strength, heroism and authenticity.

The sport also enhances self-confidence, teaches patience and endurance, and provides numerous psychological and physical benefits to its enthusiasts, he added.

The Tabuk region is currently hosting a foundation training course for the sport of preliminary tent pegging, organized by the Saudi Equestrian Federation. The 15-day course, held at the Al-Thunayanh stable, has attracted about 30 riders of various ages, both male and female.

The training course aims to promote the sport in Saudi society and encourage its practice among horse riding enthusiasts regardless of gender, the SPA said in its report.

The course includes a theoretical part that educates participants on the key regulations and laws of tent pegging. The practical part focuses on training techniques and skills in using spears and swords in various approved competitions.

Participants who complete the training will be awarded certificates by the federation in collaboration with the Leaders Development Institute.

 


Masam 7 continues Saudi Arabia’s support of Yemeni people

Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
Updated 14 July 2024
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Masam 7 continues Saudi Arabia’s support of Yemeni people

Ousama Al-Gosaibi. (Supplied)
  • Al-Gosaibi said the project’s work strategy was built on strong foundations after extensive studies of the nature of the threat posed by mines of all kinds, in addition to Yemen’s complex terrain that requires concerted human and material efforts

RIYADH: The head of Saudi Arabia’s Project Masam, Ousama Al-Gosaibi, thanked and praised the Saudi leadership for the help and support provided to Yemen to eliminate the threat of mines and explosives.

As the Saudi aid agency KSrelief extends Masam’s contract for landmine clearance in Yemen for the seventh consecutive year, Al-Gosaibi said in a press statement that the project succeeded during the past six years in carrying out its humanitarian operations on Yemeni territory, achieving high performance rates in all its field operations.

He said this is considered a significant achievement based on international standards, with the total clearances between the project’s first day and the end of last week totalled 450,919 mines, unexploded ordnance and explosive devices.

Al-Gosaibi said the project’s work strategy was built on strong foundations after extensive studies of the nature of the threat posed by mines of all kinds, in addition to Yemen’s complex terrain that requires concerted human and material efforts.

He added that the project also took into consideration the ongoing military operations, planting of mines, and booby-trapping of land and civilian installations with all kinds of explosives by the Houthi militias.

He said the seventh year will be a continuation of what the project started in mid-2018, with a focus on localized work by intensifying training and logistical support.

 


Saudi National Water Co. implements 14 projects in Qassim

Saudi National Water Co. implements 14 projects in Qassim
Updated 14 July 2024
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Saudi National Water Co. implements 14 projects in Qassim

Saudi National Water Co. implements 14 projects in Qassim
  • The company explained that the environmental projects being implemented in the region include seven projects, with a total value of approximately SR283 million

RIYADH: The National Water Co., represented by its northern sector, has begun implementing 14 water and environmental projects in various parts of the Qassim region, with a total cost exceeding SR561 million ($149.56 million).

This aims to increase the coverage rates of water and environmental services, improve their quality, and meet the growing demand for these services.

The company explained that the environmental projects being implemented in the region include seven projects, with a total value of approximately SR283 million, featuring sewage lines and networks extending over 329,000 linear meters, in addition to the construction of a lifting station with a capacity of 1,350 cubic meters per day.

It further stated that the water projects currently being executed in Qassim also encompass seven projects with a total value exceeding SR278 million. These projects involve network and line extensions surpassing 833,000 linear meters, along with the implementation of the waterway system for the Al-Mukharram and Umm Hazm wells.