Saudi king says will reject US measures that ‘prejudice’ Jerusalem

At summit of Muslim nations focusing on threats from Iran, countries also emphasize support for Palestinian rights ahead of US unveiling of its peace plan

Saudi King Salman chairs an emergency summit of Gulf Arab leaders in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Saudi King Salman chairs an emergency summit of Gulf Arab leaders in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi-hosted Islamic summit on Saturday threw its support behind Palestinians ahead of a US-led peace plan Arab leaders suspect to be skewed in favor of Israel, as Muslim states rallied around Saudi Arabia over tensions with Iran.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting, the third and final Iran-focused summit in the holy city of Mecca this week, denounced controversial US moves to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The summit of the 57-member bloc, marked by the notable absence of Iranian and Turkish leaders, called for a “boycott” of countries that have opened diplomatic missions in the city.

Trump broke with decades of bipartisan policy to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017.

The OIC’s statement comes as Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner prepares to roll out economic aspects of his long-awaited Middle East peace plan at a conference in Bahrain later this month.

The plan, which has been heavily talked up by Trump and dubbed his “deal of the century,” has already been rejected by the Palestinians, who say the president’s policies have shown him to be overwhelmingly biased in favor of Israel.

The Palestinians see the eastern part of the disputed city as the capital of their future state.

Kushner, who was in Jerusalem on Friday on the latest leg of a regional tour to sell the plan, had looked to an alliance with Saudi Arabia against Iran as a way to gain Arab support.

But Saudi King Salman told leaders of the OIC countries gathered at the summit: “The Palestinian cause is the cornerstone of the works of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and is the focus of our attention until the brotherly Palestinian people get all their legitimate rights.

“We reaffirm our unequivocal rejection of any measures that would prejudice the historical and legal status of Quds (Jerusalem).”

Women cool themselves down in a spray of water as Palestinians gather for Friday prayers at Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on May 31, 2019. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The OIC also backed Saudi Arabia in escalating tensions with Iran, as King Salman warned that “terrorist” attacks in the Gulf region could imperil global energy supplies.

The remark came after sabotage attacks damaged four vessels, two of them Saudi oil tankers, off the UAE and twin Yemeni rebel drone attacks shut down a key Saudi oil pipeline.

“We confirm that terrorist actions not only target the kingdom and the Gulf region, but also target the safety of navigation and world oil supplies,” the king told Muslim leaders.

Tehran has strongly denied involvement in any of the incidents.

In a tweet just before the start of the summit, the king vowed to confront “aggressive threats and subversive activities.”

“Undermining the security of the kingdom effectively undermines the security of the Arab and Islamic world,” said OIC Secretary General Yousef bin Ahmed al-Othaimeen, voicing solidarity that was shared by other members.

In back-to-back summits on Friday, Gulf and Arab allies similarly threw their support behind Saudi Arabia, which drew accusations from Iran of “sowing division.”

The summits came after Trump’s hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton said Wednesday that Iranian naval mines were “almost certainly” responsible for the damage to the four ships off the United Arab Emirates on May 12.

The findings of a five-nation inquiry into what happened have yet to be released.

Tehran dismissed Bolton’s accusation as “laughable” and accused him of pursuing “evil desires for chaos in the region.”

Friday’s summit followed two emergency Arab meetings the night before in Mecca criticizing Iran’s behavior and its influence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Tensions have spiked in recent weeks between Washington and Tehran, with the US sending an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. The Trump administration’s hard-line approach with Iran began with the US withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year and continued with punishing economic sanctions on the Shiite state.

Saudi Arabia’s effort to bring regional leaders to Mecca reflects the kingdom’s desire to project a unified Muslim and Arab position on Iran to further isolate it internationally and counter Tehran’s growing reach in the Middle East.

Col. Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-linked Houthi forces in Yemen, displays what he said is evidence of Iranian intervention and support to Houthi forces during a press conference in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The Islamic summit, however, drew political figures and heads of state from countries spanning Africa, the Middle East and Asia with widely varying policies and priorities.

But for the summit’s host, Saudi Arabia, confronting Iran is at the top of the agenda.

“We meet in Mecca to build the future of our peoples, to achieve security and stability for our Arab and Islamic countries, and to resolutely confront aggressive threats and subversive activities,” King Salman said in a tweet shortly before the start of the meeting.

Presenting a unified stance on Iran faces obstacles within OIC member-states, which includes Iran. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is attending the summit, has sought good ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had a message for OIC leaders ahead of the summit, urging them to stay focused on the rights of Palestinians. In a letter published on the presidential website Friday, Rouhani said Muslim leaders should not let the importance of Palestinian statehood be “marginalized” in the face of the Trump administration’s forthcoming peace plan.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a ceremony commemorating the ‘National Day of Nuclear Technology’ in Tehran, Iran on, April 9, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Rouhani also complained in the letter about not being invited to the Islamic summit, but expressed his country’s readiness to work with all Muslim leaders to confront the White House’s so-called “Deal of the Century.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi added further that Iran regrets “Saudi Arabia’s abuse of its privilege as the host” of the OIC “to sow division between Islamic and regional countries.”

The leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group told supporters in Lebanon on Friday that the Mecca summits are a Saudi call for help from Arab countries after Saudi Arabia failed to win in Yemen, where the kingdom and its allies have been at war since 2015 against Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels.

“It is a sign of failure,” Hassan Nasrallah said. “These summits are calls for help… that express the failure and the inabilities in confronting the Yemeni army, popular resistance and people.”

Hezbollah supporters take part in a rally to mark al-Quds day in Beirut, Lebanon, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Meanwhile, Syria said it rejects the final statement of Thursday night’s emergency summit, which criticized what it calls Iranian intervention into Syrian affairs.

Syria, whose membership in the Arab League remains suspended, said the statement is an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Syria.

Iraq, which lies on the fault line between Shiite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world, also rejected the Arab League’s final statement after the summit and was not a signatory to it.

A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said the Iranian presence is “legitimate because it came at the request of the Syrian government and contributed to support Syria’s efforts in combating terrorism supported by some of the participants in this summit.”

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