Dhahran: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday slammed Iran’s “blatant interference” in regional affairs as Arab leaders met in the kingdom for an annual gathering.
Opening the 29th Arab League summit, the king also criticised the US decision to transfer its embassy in Israel to Occupied Jerusalem and described “terrorism” as the biggest challenge facing Arab leaders.
Seventeen leaders from across the Arab world - minus Syrian President Bashar Al Assad - gathered in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran for the summit, which this year comes as world powers face off over Syria and tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran.
The meeting opened only 24 hours after a barrage of strikes launched by the United States, Britain and France hit targets they said were linked to chemical weapons development in Syria, which was suspended from the league seven years ago.
But King Salman avoided any mention of Syria in his address, as a seat marked “Syrian Arab Republic” sat empty in the hall.
Instead the king focused on rivalries with long-time foe Iran - only 160 kilometres across the Gulf from Dhahran.
“We renew our strong condemnation of Iran’s terrorist acts in the Arab region and reject its blatant interference in the affairs of Arab countries,” the king said.
And despite being a stalwart ally of the United States, the ruler also criticised US President Donald Trump controversial decision to transfer America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Occupied Jerusalem.
“We reiterate our rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem,” Salman said. “East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories.”
Arab ministers at a preliminary meeting in Riyadh on Thursday focused heavily on blocking the move, unanimously condemning Trump’s decision.
King Salman on Sunday announced a $150 million donation for the maintenance of Islamic heritage in East Jerusalem.
Saudi Arabia is pushing for a tough, unified stance against its regional rival Iran at the annual gathering of the 22-member Arab League.
Last month the Security Council issued a statement condemning Al Houthi missile attacks on Saudi, but did not name Iran.
In February, Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have expressed concern over Iran’s failure to block supplies of missiles to Yemen’s Al Houthi militants.
Summits of the Arab League, established in 1945, rarely result in action. The last time the bloc made a concrete move was in 2011, when it suspended Syria’s membership over the Al Assad regime’s role in the war.
Syria’s war, the most complex of the region’s conflicts, is the main point of contention pitting Riyadh and its allies, who mainly back Sunni rebels, against regime backer Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
Saudi tensions with neighbouring Qatar were also on display at the summit.
Qatar’s emir did not attend the summit, instead dispatching Qatar’s Arab League representative to the meeting.
The crisis, however, was not on the agenda.