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Issue 1063 - 20 July 2018

New Kuwait-Saudi committee

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Kuwait foreign minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah signed an agreement with his Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir to set up a bilateral co-ordination council on 18 July. The new council’s role has not been clearly defined. However, it’s the second time in recent months that Riyadh has set up a new bilateral mechanism with a neighbour in an initiative that is bound to raise questions about Riyadh’s commitment to the Gulf Co-operation Council. In June, it finalised a co-ordination council with the UAE.

Kuwait | Saudi Arabia
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Alarm bells have sounded over reports that Saudi Arabia is preparing to sign an unprecedented $2bn arms deal with Russia. Saudi defence procurement is usually the domain of the United States, Britain and France – leading observers to speculate that a geopolitical shift is under way. This might also involve shifting attitudes towards Iran, with Riyadh offering Moscow juicy contracts if it cools relations with Tehran.

Iran | Saudi Arabia
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Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani declared a welcome victory with the 12-13 November ousting of Islamic State (IS, or Daesh) from Sinjar, liberating the Yazidi town more than a year after its traumatic occupation and severing Highway 47, a main supply route between IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria. Following the projection of US-led airpower – the US Department of Defence reported more than 30 airstrikes on Sinjar and surrounding areas during the offensive’s first day – the Kurdish advance, involving an estimated 7,500 troops, was largely unopposed.

Iraq
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Tehran says it has acquired the ability to manufacture nuclear-powered submarines but has not yet decided whether to produce any. In a 3 April interview with the local Mehr News Agency, head of the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics’ Marine Industries Organisation Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari said “We have acquired such a knowhow and capability… [but] we have not yet received orders”.

Iran
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Saudi-backed cargo aircraft, the Antonov AN-132D, had a successful maiden flight from the manufacturer’s airfield near the Ukrainian capital Kiev on 31 March. The one hour, 50 minute flight was captained by Victor Goncharov alongside co-pilot Bohdan Zagoruyko, both from Antonov. They were accompanied by test pilot Major General (retired) Captain Mohammed Bin Saeed Ayash of Saudi Arabia’s Taqnia Aeronautics Company. Saudi coverage described him as piloting the plane alongside a crew of Ukrainian pilots and technicians. The AN-132D is being developed by Antonov in close co-operation with ТTaqnia and King Abdelaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).

Saudi Arabia
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In what appears to be a reconciliatory gesture towards what Riyadh sees as Yemeni rebels, Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir has described the Houthis as being an intrinsic part of Yemeni society. “Whether we agree or disagree with them, the Houthis are part of the social fabric of Yemen,” he tweeted on 13 May. “However, Al-Qaeda and [Islamic State] Daesh are terrorist entities that must be confronted in Yemen and everywhere else,” he added, in a follow-on tweet. The tweets prompted the circulation of an Arabic-language hashtag on Twitter meaning ‘Al-Jubeir the Houthis are our neighbours’.

Yemen
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South Yemen continues to be the focus of tensions within the Saudi-led coalition, as the power vacuum created by war has enlivened historical animosities and provided both opportunity and incentive for local politicians to pursue greater self-rule. This has been highlighted by fighting between groups backed by different coalition members – notably the Southern Transition Council (STC) backed by the UAE and forces allied to the internationally recognised President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi, supported by Saudi Arabia.

Yemen
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First deputy prime minister and defence minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah returned to Kuwait on 9 November, having spent time in London and Tashkent recuperating from cancer treatment. He had been due to meet well-wishers at the Armed Forces Officers Club on Gulf Street on the evening of 11 November, but the event was called off two days beforehand; the Ministry of Defence cited heavy rainfall as the reason. Among those who sent messages of support was the heir to the UK throne, Prince Charles.

Kuwait
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Saudi investor and businessman Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud spoke openly about Saudi-US relations and President Barack Obama’s second term in a late November interview with the Wall Street Journal. The paper noted that, although Alwaleed holds no important government post, “it is hard to shake the impression that here is the uncensored id of the reserved House of Saud”. The prince – who has not had an easy time recently with the US media, particularly Forbes (GSN 942/12) – said “America is shooting itself in the foot… we love the United States.

Saudi Arabia
Issue 1020 - 29 July 2016

UAE: MBZ visits Qatar

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Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed arrived in Qatar on 20 July for one-day visit. He was met at Doha International Airport by Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. The two went on to a luncheon banquet and formal talks at Al-Bahr Palace.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Press reports in January have revived the idea that the Canadian government might end arms exports to Saudi Arabia as a result of human rights concerns. Foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland’s spokesman Adam Austen was quoted in The Globe and Mail on 24 January as saying the government was “hitting the pause button on approval of new permits” while it carried out an investigation into Riyadh’s deployment of Canadian-made armoured vehicles against Saudi residents.

Saudi Arabia
Issue 1032 - 23 February 2017

Emir Sheik Tamim: Erdogan visit

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Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani on 15 February hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who was in town for a short visit. Talks were held at the Emiri Diwan and attended by Deputy Emir Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Thani and various ministers. Erdogan and the emir, along with two of his young sons, also visited the Mall of Qatar, which opened in December 2016, and were seen looking at a Turkish restaurant which recently opened there.

Qatar
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Ruler Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, who is president of the University of Sharjah, on 4 June underlined longstanding support for the arts when he opened the university’s College of Fine Arts and Design graduate show. Sheikh Sultan is also president of the American University of Sharjah (AUS), where, on 12 June, he chaired a trustees meeting that agreed measures to further promote AUS’ ambitions to become a significant research university.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Issue 1032 - 23 February 2017

Mohammed Bin Rashid: Tech-friendly talks

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Dubai royals have been doing their best to bolster the emirate’s tech credentials with a series of meetings with senior industry figures. Vice President and prime minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (MBR) held talks with electric car pioneer Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk on 13 February. The following day, MBR inspected a new ‘autonomous aerial vehicle’ developed by China’s Ehang Company. The drone-like vehicle is capable of carrying a human.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Issue 960 - 12 December 2013

Dahdaleh corruption trial collapses

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A major bribery trial linked to Bahrain’s majority state-owned aluminium producer Alba has come to a sudden halt, after Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) concluded there was no longer a realistic chance of prosecution. A jury found businessman Victor Dahdaleh not guilty on all counts, in a significant setback for the beleaguered SFO.