On a historic visit to Moscow on Thursday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman criticized arch-foe Iran, a Russian ally, voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and signed multi-billion dollar defense and energy deals with Russian officials.
“This is the first visit by a Saudi Arabian monarch in the history of our relations and that in itself is a landmark event,” Russian President Putin said as he welcomed King Salman to Moscow in an ornate gilded Kremlin hall.
“I’m sure your visit will boost the ties between our countries,” he said.
“We aim to strengthen our relations in the interests of peace and security, in the interests of developing the world economy,” the Saudi king responded.
Relations between the two countries have often been strained. During Cold War times, the Saudis helped arm Afghan rebels fighting against the Soviet invasion. The two are also at odds on the Syrian civil war, with Russia strongly backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Riyadh behind the Sunni rebels trying to oust him.
Iran has also been a staunch ally of Assad, sending high-level military officials and weaponry into the war-torn nation and dispatching thousands of militants from its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. Iran has also had a hand in the ongoing crisis in Yemen, backing Shiite Houthi rebels.
Salman took the opportunity Thursday to address these issue, blasting Iran for its interference in regional affairs.
“We emphasize that the security and stability of the Gulf region and the Middle East is an urgent necessity for achieving stability and security in Yemen,” Salman said in opening remarks that were broadcasted on Russian television. “This would demand that Iran give up interference with the internal affairs of the region, to give up actions destabilizing the situation in this region.”
Salman also told Putin he hoped to see “a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital” established in the future, as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The two leaders also discussed last week’s referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan, in which the Kurds voted more than 90 percent in favor for independence. “The territorial integrity of Iraq must be preserved,” the Saudi King told Putin, according to the Ynet news site.
Russia and Saudi Arabia on Thursday also announced major investments and joint ventures to further cement relations, with Putin and Salman signing deals from arms sales to cooperation in space.
Riyadh on Thursday signed a preliminary agreement to buy S-400 air defence systems from Russia, the Saudi military industries firm said.
Under the agreement, Saudi Arabia is set to buy S-400 air defence systems, Kornet anti-tank guided missile systems and multiple rocket launchers.
Trade volume between the two countries reached $2.8 billion last year, according to official Saudi press.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, announced in 2015 plans to invest $10 billion in Russia over the next five years, though only a fraction of that has so far been put up.
The Saudis have also been eyeing Russian nuclear power technologies and appear ready to expand food imports from Russia, which is set to remain the world’s biggest wheat exporter this year.
Food security is a major concern for Saudi Arabia, which stopped local production of livestock feed and wheat due to water scarcity.
Russia and Saudi Arabia are heavily dependent on oil exports and the global plunge of the price of crude that began in 2014 lashed both their economies.
OPEC members have joined with Russia and other countries in cutting crude output in a pact that has helped prop up prices.
Putin said on Wednesday it was possible to extend an OPEC deal to cap oil output “at least until the end of 2018”.
The current agreement runs until March 2018.
“We strive to continue the positive cooperation between our countries to achieve stability on world oil markets which promotes the growth of the world’s economy,” Salman said in Moscow.
The leaders held one-on-one talks, followed by broader discussions.
Putin visited Riyadh in 2007 and last met Salman in Turkey in 2015. Salman said he last visited Russia in 2006, before becoming king.
The 81-year-old Saudi monarch’s three-day visit got off to an awkward start on Wednesday evening after landing at Moscow’s Vnukovo-2 airport when the escalator he uses to descend from his plane malfunctioned.
The escalator stopped midway, forcing the king to walk down himself, to be met by Russian officials including deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin and a military brass band.
His delegation of around 1,000 people occupied all the available hotel rooms in five-star hotels around the Kremlin, including one entire hotel, state RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Salman arrived in Moscow along with Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and Minister of State Musaed al-Aiban.
The head of Saudi’s state-owned oil giant Aramco Amin Nasser told Rossiya 24 state television ahead of the talks that the company would sign agreements with Russia’s Gazprom, Gazprom Neft and Sibur energy companies as well as with an affiliate of Lukoil.