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Kingdom welcomes Iraq back into Arab fold
Riyadh, 9TH August 2001

 Saudi Arabia has stated that it is ready to welcome Iraq back into Arab fold. “We are ready to forget the past to overcome the present difficulties and we welcome Iraq’s return into the Arab fold. We don’t have anything against Iraq,” said Prince Sultan, second deputy premier and minister of defense and aviation.

In a wide-ranging interview with Asharq Al-Awsat Arabic daily, a sister publication of Arab News, he voiced his confidence that Arabs would emerge winners in their present conflict with Israel.

Saudi Arabia, he said, would continue to support the Palestinians “until Jerusalem is liberated and the Palestinian Authority raises its flag in the liberated territories.”

The Saudi defense minister dismissed belief that the Gulf region would remain under the protection of foreign forces, saying that such comments were based on prejudice.

“The best way to stop foreign ambition is to shut out the possibility of chaos in the region,” he remarked.

He also underscored the military cooperation among the six GCC member states.

He denied reports that military aircraft carrying out strikes on Iraq had set off from Saudi territory. Planes flying from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are on air surveillance and security missions only.

“They are not at all allowed to conduct any military operations,” he added.

With reference to Saudi-Iraqi relations, he said Saudi Arabia has absolutely no interest in imposing sanctions against Baghdad or creating any political and military tension. “We hope that Iraq will be able to alleviate the suffering of its people by complying with UN Security Council resolutions,” he said.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia’s stand during the last Arab summit in Amman was in favor of the Iraqi people. “We have offered them everything and stood with them in all matters, but the Iraqi government rejected our initiatives,” he added.

In the interview, Prince Sultan also emphasized that Riyadh’s good relations with Tehran were not at the expense of the United Arab Emirates’ right to the three disputed Gulf islands — the Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Mousa Island.

“Our good relations with Iran could be used to settle this issue,” he said, and urged the two Islamic countries to settle their outstanding differences to reinforce peace and stability in the region.

Prince Sultan highlighted Saudi Arabia’s efforts to unify Arab ranks. “We always work to forge Arab unity and solidarity and settle differences between Arab countries.”

He said Saudi Arabia was the first country to call for an Arab and Islamic solidarity conference in Makkah during the time of King Abdul Aziz.

Asked whether the security of the Gulf region would remain in the hands of foreign forces, he said: “This is not true. Saudi Arabia, which has an area close to one third of Europe, is protected by Saudi armed forces. The claim about foreign protection in the Gulf is based on prejudice. We reject it.”

“The presence of foreign forces in Gulf waters is not a new development,” he continued. “These are international waters, like most other seas and gulfs in the world. Nobody has any authority over them. Different countries have sailed in these waters since the fifties.”

In relation to the idea that the Gulf countries require political changes more than military development, Prince Sultan said: “Why do they talk about new arrangements if the Gulf is now more successful and more stable than before?”

He ruled out plans to militarize Saudi society, expand military institutions and increase military spending. “The development and security of the region will not be based on more tanks and warplanes and ships. There should be progress at the educational and economic and all other levels, alongside military development,” he pointed out.

Prince Sultan commended the Kingdom’s economic reforms introduced in line with international developments. He supported the Kingdom joining the World Trade Organization but insisted that it should not in any way undermine the country’s Islamic faith. “We have defended the faith for a century and will continue to do so,” he added.

Source: Arab News©

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09 August 2001 06:05:54 PM

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