On the 27th of November, our Managing Director, Dr. Adel Al Toraifi took part in the 2018 Berlin Foreign Policy Forum organised by the Koerber Stiftung. The debate also included participants such as Iran’s former nuclear negotiator Hossein Moussvian and Germany’s Federal Foreign Office’s Director-General for the Near and Middle East, Africa and Latin America, Philipp Ackermann. The talk was moderated by the Financial Times’ Deputy Director, Roula Khalaf.
Here are Dr. Al Toraifi’s main comments during the Forum:
- Asked about what the prospects are for the Middle East without the JCPOA, Dr. Al Toraifi asserted that peace remained the real endgame for regional players such as Saudi Arabia. But for this to happen, the Iranian leadership has to accept coexistence and not seek to conduct its foreign policy through violence. A rapprochement is not impossible between Iran and Saudi Arabia, since the two countries entertained warmer relations during the 1990s, which culminated with the 1998 Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement. For another round of detente to start, Dr. Al Toraifi hinted that the Saudi leadership expects the IRGC to stop its coercive activities in the world, including the Middle East and Europe, where it is reported IRGC operatives sought to kill Iranian dissidents in Paris and Copenhagen. A change in Iran’s foreign policy would therefore be needed before a rapprochement can occur, especially considering that Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen, who have launched more than 200 ballistic missiles toward Saudi Arabia since 2015.
- On the topic of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, Dr. Al Toraifi condemned the “horrific crime” conducted by rogue operatives and affirmed that Saudi Arabia was seeking justice through the Kingdom’s legal system . When asked whether the killing could be seen as a “malign activity” on the part of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Al Toraifi said that Khashoggi’s murder was not comparable to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s prolonged history of targeted assassinations, but recognised that both Iran and Saudi Arabia share the blame of allying themselves with political islamists and radical conservatives, something that the Saudi Crown Prince is seeking to end in Saudi Arabia.
- On the topic of reforms in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Al Toraifi upheld that the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remains the “leading figure for modernisation” in Saudi Arabia, a role that he has embraced as soon as he became Deputy Crown Prince in 2015. Therefore, Dr. Al Toraifi advised that it would be unfavourable for the public opinion to morally shame the Kingdom at a time when monumental steps are undertaken to modernise it. He also added that the Crown Prince greatly contributed to Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, by making it more assertive and undertaking a bigger role on the international and regional stage. Dr. Al Toraifi also certified that Saudi Arabia was one of the US’ “best allies” for the past 80 years and that it enjoyed very good relations with European countries.
- On the issue of Yemen, Dr. Al Toraifi explained that Saudi Arabia’s end goal was for an intra-Yemeni dialogue to lead to peace. He cited the plans of the United Nations’ Envoy to Yemen to create the framework for such a process. This process would be based on the GCC’s initiative, the 2014 national dialogue and the UN’s Security Council Resolution 2216, voted back in 2015 and supporting Abdarabbuh Mansur Hadi as the legitimate President and calling for the disarmament of Houthis. Dr. Al Toraifi reminded the audience that Saudi Arabia was Yemen’s biggest humanitarian donor and that it continued to bankroll its government, even in Houthi-held territory.
- Dr. Al Toraifi ended his intervention by concluding that there were two conflicting visions in the Middle East: one called Saudi Vision 2030 and supporting regional economic growth and women’s rights, and the other continuing to export revolutions and creating militias like Hezbollah so as to overcome the modern states and civil societies present in the region. Referring to Iran, Dr. Al Toraifi highlighted the contradictions present in the Islamic Republic’s ideology and said that it was shameful for the Iranian regime to pretend helping the Mostazafin (downtrodden) when it actually propels murderous regimes such as Bashar Al Assad’s.
Dr. Al Toraifi was Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture and Information from 2015 to 2017, and is now the Chairman and Managing Director of Castlereagh Associates, a London-based analysis and research firm.
Photo Copyright © 2018 Koerber Stiftung.