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Archive for Saudi Arabia

Newsline: New Saudi ambassadors take up posts in Washington and London

Saudi Arabia’s new ambassadors to the United States and the United Kingdom have taken up their posts after several months’ vacancy amid tensions with Western allies over the Yemen war and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, the Gulf kingdom’s first female ambassador, presented her credentials in Washington while her brother, Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan, did so in London, state news agency SPA reported. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-diplomacy-usa-britain/new-saudi-ambassadors-take-up-posts-in-washington-and-london-idUSKCN1TZ0UF) They arrive at a fraught period in both bilateral relationships, with heightened criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record and calls to freeze arms sales amid a four-year-old war in Yemen where the Saudi-led coalition is fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis. Princess Reema was named in February to replace Prince Khalid bin Salman, who was heavily criticized for denying that Khashoggi had been killed last October inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul before the authorities ultimately acknowledged the murder of the Washington Post columnist.

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Newsline: Saudi envoy blasts UN expert’s report on Khashoggi killing

A top Saudi diplomat lashed out at an independent U.N. expert’s searing report alleging that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it was based on “prejudice and pre-fabricated ideas.” (https://www.yahoo.com/news/saudi-envoy-blasts-un-experts-150646625.html) In what amounted to a face-off at the U.N’s top human rights body, Ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil insisted that special rapporteur Agnes Callamard had failed to follow proper procedures and used flawed sourcing in her 101-page report made public last week. “Accusations have been launched, and fingers have been pointed — (she is) supporting herself on non-credible articles or sources,” he told the Human Rights Council, in Arabic through a U.N. interpreter. Callamard, sitting at the council podium to present her report, retorted that her methodology had respected precedent and insisted her report wasn’t based on media reports. She also said she hadn’t received any responses in writing from Saudi authorities to her report. The report by Callamard, an independent expert on extrajudicial and arbitrary killings, alleged that Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for The Washington Post columnist’s grisly apparent dismemberment by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October. It said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s possible role in the killing should be examined, and Callamard used June 25 presentation to push for further investigation. Among diplomats speaking out, European Union ambassador Walter Stevens called on Saudi Arabia “to disclose all information available,” and “fully cooperate” with investigations into the killing, and Ralf Schroeder of Germany said “nothing can justify this killing, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.” Russia’s representative, Yaroslav Eremin, questioned the focus on journalists, dissenters and others, wondering aloud if the lives of regular citizens were “less valuable.” Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri of Bahrain rallied to the defense of its big Arab neighbor, insisting Saudi Arabia had shown “full transparency from the outset.”

Newsline: Consulate recordings reveal Saudi plan for Khashoggi murder

The UN report into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi reveals disturbing new details about what happened in the hours before he died, and the conversations that were taking place between Saudi officials who were involved in his killing. Relying on the transcripts of recordings provided by the Turkish authorities, the report describes how Jamal Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Turkey by appointment on 2 October last year, to obtain papers he needed to pave the way for his marriage to his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. The report relies on recordings of conversations within the consulate in the days prior to his death, which show how a team of Saudi officials flew from Riyadh to Istanbul to kill him. Five came on a commercial flight, nine others on a private jet. One Saudi official asked whether it would “be possible to put the trunk in a bag”. Another replied: “No. Too heavy. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/19/consulate-recordings-reveal-saudi-plan-for-jamal-khashoggi) In the recordings, sounds of a struggle can be heard, the UN report says, and then voices saying: “Did he sleep? … Keep pushing … Push here. Don’t remove your hand. Push it.” The report adds: “The sound of plastic sheets (wrapping) could also be heard. Turkish intelligence concluded that these came after Mr Khashoggi’s death while the Saudi officials were dismembering his body.”

Newsline: Inside the 2014 hack of a Saudi embassy

The story began with a bizarre attempt to defraud a Saudi schoolmaster in the UK of a €200 visa fee and ended with a $50 million ransom demand and a manhunt by the Dutch diplomatic police as the clock ticked down to September 23, Saudi National Day. An attacker claiming to be ISIS took control of the official email account of the Saudi Embassy in the Netherlands in August, 2014 and sent emails to more than a dozen embassies at The Hague demanding $50 million for ISIS, or they would blow up a major diplomatic reception, documents seen by CSO reveal. The attack compromised the Saudi embassy’s non-classified computer network. They deployed a garden-variety rootkit on the workstation of the ambassador’s secretary and took over the embassy’s official email account. (https://www.csoonline.com/article/3386381/inside-the-2014-hack-of-a-saudi-embassy.html) No one was ever formally held accountable, despite an internal investigation. Given the low sophistication of the attack, experts tell CSO it’s impossible to say whether the attacker really was part of an organized effort by ISIS, a random supporter, or a nation-state intelligence agency masquerading as ISIS for motives unknown. Documents obtained by CSO provide details of the attack and the Saudi response. This provides an interesting window into how a government might react to a suspected nation-state attack and raises questions about the level of security deployed at embassies around the world.

Newsline: Saudi Arabia reopens consulate in Iraq

Saudi Arabia has reopened a consulate in Baghdad for the first time in nearly 30 years and announced a one billion dollars aid package for Iraq. The diplomatic mission in Iraqi capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone was inaugurated on Thursday at a ceremony, during which Iraq’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Alhakim raised a green Saudi flag over the building. The reopening of the consulate, which will issue visas to Iraqis, marked a “new phase” in relations between Riyadh and Baghdad, said Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi, Saudi Arabia’s trade minister. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/saudi-arabia-reopen-consulate-iraq-pledges-1bn-aid-190404180418791.html) Saudi Arabia would provide Iraq with one billion dollars in loans for development projects, said Qasabi, plus $500m to boost exports and a gift of a 100,000-seat sports stadium to be built on Baghdad’s outskirts. Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iraq when the latter invaded Kuwait in 1990. Diplomatic relations resumed in 2015 when Riyadh sent an ambassador to Baghdad, and improved with the then-Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir’s visit in 2017, the first by a Saudi foreign minister since 1990. But consular services remained suspended and Iraqis applying for visas had to go through the Saudi embassy in neighbouring Jordan.

Newsline: Jamal Khashoggi’s body likely burned in large oven at Saudi consulate residence in Istanbul

The body of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was likely burned in a large oven at the Saudi consul general’s residence in Istanbul, an Al Jazeera investigation revealed. New details of the writer’s murder by a Saudi assassination team were reported in a documentary by Al Jazeera Arabic that aired on Mar. 10. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/jamal-khashoggi-body-burned-large-oven-saudi-home-190304011823218.html) Turkish authorities monitored the burning of the outdoor furnace from outside the premises as bags believed to be containing Khashoggi’s body parts were transferred to the Saudi consul’s home after he was killed inside the consulate a few hundred metres away. Al Jazeera interviewed a worker who constructed the furnace who stated it was built according to specifications from the Saudi consul. It had to be deep and withstand temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius – hot enough to melt metal. Large quantities of barbeque meat were grilled in the oven after the killing in order to cover up the cremation of the Saudi writer’s body, Turkish authorities reported. The burning of Khashoggi’s body took place over a period of three days, Turkish officials said. Turkish investigators also found traces of Khashoggi’s blood on the walls of the Saudi consul’s office after removing paint that the assassination team applied after killing the Washington Post columnist on October 2.

Newsline: US Embassy Staffers Shut Them Out of Saudi Meetings

Officials and staffers in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh said they were not read in on the details of Jared Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia or the meetings he held with members of the country’s royal court last week, according to three sources with knowledge of the trip. And that’s causing concern not only in the embassy but also among members of Congress. (https://www.thedailybeast.com/embassy-staffers-say-jared-kushner-shut-them-out-of-saudi-meetings) On his trip to the Middle East, Kushner stopped in Riyadh. While there, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman to discuss U.S.-Saudi cooperation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic investment in the region, according to the White House. But no one from the embassy in Riyadh was in the meetings, according to those same sources. The State Department did have a senior official in attendance, but he was not part of the State Department team in Saudi. He is a senior member of the department focused on Iran, according to a source with direct knowledge of the official’s presence in Riyadh.