By Mohammed Rasooldeen
Saudi Arabia and France said on Tuesday they hoped Syrian truce talks in Astana would lead to a resumption of UN-led peace efforts in Geneva and more aid to civilians suffering from years of war.
In a joint news conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault also said cooperation with new US President Donald Trump would be important on a range of Middle East issues.
Iran, Russia and Turkey ended talks in Kazakhstan on Tuesday with the announcement of a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance with a shaky truce between Syrian warring parties.
Saudi Arabia did not take part in the Astana meetings. A French envoy attended informally with other Western counterparts. The talks in Astana come after years of intermittent talks in Geneva failed to resolve the conflict.
“We wish for the success of today’s meeting, but I don’t know if we’re going to reach a real agreement. We hope for negotiations to resume in Geneva,” Ayrault said.
Al-Jubeir said he was optimistic about the possibilities of regional powers working with the Trump administration. He expressed confidence in Trump’s cabinet nominees, including national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom he described as “an American patriot.”
Flynn ruffled feathers with divisive rhetoric on the campaign trail, such as the Twitter comment: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”
The Kingdom and France vowed to take bilateral relations to greater heights during the talks held between King Salman and Ayrault at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh on Tuesday.
“Saudi-French relations date back to 1926, and France is third-largest investor in the Kingdom,” Al-Jubeir said, adding that both countries face several challenges, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iran.
Al-Jubeir said the Kingdom is not aggressive against any country, and condemned Iran’s intervention in the affairs of Arab states, including Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
“Yet the Kingdom wants to build friendly relations with Iran, since it is a Muslim country that falls within the region,” Al-Jubeir said.
Ayrault said during his meeting with the king, he stressed the strategic alliance between the two countries, and explored ways to combat terror and establish permanent peace in the region.
He added that terror has become a common enemy of the two countries, which need concerted efforts to combat terror and extremism, and block their sources of funding.
Commending the Kingdom’s efforts against terror, Ayrault said there is an urgent need to crush Daesh and for political dialogue between aggrieved parties.
He said France does not yet know the foreign policy of the Trump administration, but the G20 meeting in Bonn in February will help clarify this.
Speaking about Syria, Ayrault said: “We need a permanent a cease-fire, which could allow humanitarian aid to the victims of this tragedy.”
French exports to the Kingdom have increased by 20 percent in the last year. The Riyadh Metro is being constructed in partnership with French company Alstom.
Ayrault said France is ready to undertake new projects in the Kingdom under Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020.
Al-Jubeir said the talks with Ayrault were positive and demonstrated the keenness of the two parties to strengthen bilateral relations.
The French minister also met with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and visited a construction site of Riyadh Metro, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and the Misk Foundation in the Diplomatic Quarter.
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