MUNICH (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Friday defended his country’s foreign policy and its stance in Yemen and Syria, insisting that the kingdom has no ambitions beyond its borders. Its actions in Yemen, Adel al-Jubeir said, were aimed at preventing a “radical militia allied with Iran and Hezbollah” from seizing power.
Since taking power last year, King Salman has led his country toward an aggressive new stance, confronting longtime regional rival Iran by leading a military coalition fighting Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen. Riyadh is also one of the main opponents of President Bashar Assad’s government in Syria.
Though few of Saudi Arabia’s allies have publicly criticized its policies, an intelligence analysis released by Germany’s BND spy agency in December cited concern over the kingdom’s “new impulsive policy of intervention.” It said it feared that Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to establish itself as a leader in the Arab world could damage the kingdom’s ties with its regional allies.
Al-Jubeir said at a security conference in Munich on Friday that Saudi Arabia is “a country that has no ambitions beyond its borders” and is guided by pragmatism. He spoke after joining foreign ministers from global and regional powers — including Iran — in agreeing to seek a temporary “cessation of hostilities” in Syria.
“We have dealt with the challenges in the region this year in ways that the world maybe is not used to, but that’s because frankly there is a vacuum, and if nobody’s willing to do something then the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its allies had to step in and do something,” al-Jubeir said.
“We acted in Yemen to prevent a legitimate government from collapsing and the country being taken over by a radical militia allied with Iran and Hezbollah,” he added. “We did so in response to the request of the legitimate government. We have no intention of seizing one inch of Yemeni territory; we have no intention of trying to dominate Yemen.”
Al-Jubeir also insisted that Assad must go to make it possible to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria. He said his country is working for political change in order to remove “a man who is the single most effective magnet for extremists and terrorists in the region.” He added that “that’s our objective and we will achieve it.”
“Unless and until there is a change in Syria, Daesh will not be defeated in Syria,” al-Jubeir said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposite sides in the war in Syria. In January, tensions between the rivals escalated when Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran in response to the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking in Munich later Friday, said that “we need to work together … we are prepared to work with Saudi Arabia.”
The two countries should agree that “Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot exclude each other from the region,” he added, accusing Riyadh of pursuing “a practice of exclusion” against Tehran.
Zarif argued that the two countries could find common ground over Yemen and Syria.
Also at the Munich conference, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the deal on a temporary Syrian truce — which fell short of a lasting cease-fire — “must be successful, because the situation in Syria cannot continue as is.”
King Abdullah of Jordan echoed that sentiment, saying that the world must “act as one on the diplomatic front.”
“The killing in Syria has to stop if we are to move forward and find a political solution, one that protects Syria’s independence and integrity,” he said.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.