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Saudi King Salman speaks in a prerecorded video during the United Nations General Assembly via live stream in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Abu Dhabi: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman expressed hope Wednesday that the kingdom’s direct talks with Iran will lead to confidence building, paving the way to achieving aspirations of the region’s people.

King Salman made the remarks in a pre-recorded speech delivered to leaders gathered for the UN General Assembly.

“Iran is a neighbour of Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom hopes talks between the two nations can lead to tangible results that pave the way to achieving the aspirations of the region’s people,” King Salman said.

King Salman, however, cautioned that relations must be based on respect of national sovereignty and the cessation of support for sectarian militias.

Saudi-Iranian relations hit a low when the Trump administration was exerting maximum pressure on Iran. During those years, Iran was accused of being behind multiple attacks on energy targets in the Arabiam Gulf — including a strike on an Aramco refinery in 2019 — and of supporting Al Houthi fighters in Yemen, where the kingdom has been at war for more than six years.

In April, news emerged that Saudi Arabia and Iran held a first round of talks in Iraq after President Joe Biden’s election. Former President Donald Trump had pulled the United States out of a nuclear deal in 2018, while Biden said the US wants to return to the pact, though talks have stalled.

The two sides met again in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, according to Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency.

King Salman reiterated Saudi concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is for peaceful energy purposes.

King Salman added that the peace initiative in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia presented last March, can end the conflict, sparing blood and putting an end to the suffering of the brotherly Yemeni people.

“Unfortunately, the terrorist Houthi militias still refuse peaceful solutions, and are betting on the military option to control more lands in Yemen,” the King added.

King Salman said that the Iran-backed Houthi militias use the suffering of the Yemeni people, their urgent need for humanitarian assistance, and the risks resulting from the deterioration of the situation, as bargaining chips and blackmail, and attack daily on civilian objects inside the Kingdom, and threaten international navigation and international energy supplies.

“The Kingdom reserves its legitimate right to defend itself in the face of attacks by ballistic missiles, drones, and booby-trapped boats, and categorically rejects any attempts to interfere in its internal affairs,” King Salman added.

King Salman said Saudi Arabia stresses the importance of the international community standing firm before everyone who supports, sponsors, finances and harbors terrorist groups and sectarian militias or uses them as a means to spread chaos and destruction and extend hegemony and influence.

“The Kingdom’s foreign policy attaches great importance to consolidating security and stability, supporting dialog and peaceful solutions, and providing conditions that support development and achieve people’s aspirations for a better tomorrow, in the Middle East and the world at large,” King Salman added.

Renaissance Dam

King Salman said the Kingdom supports efforts aimed at a binding peaceful solution to the problem of the Renaissance Dam in a manner that preserves the water rights of Egypt and Sudan, and peaceful solutions under the auspices of the United Nations to the crises in Libya and Syria, and all efforts to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan, and the aspirations of its people and guaranteeing their rights of all spectrums.

Palestinian issue

He stressed Saudi Arabia’s longstanding position on Palestinian statehood, saying that a lasting peace must guarantee an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

“We affirm that peace is the strategic option for the Middle East region, through a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue based on international legitimacy resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative, in a manner that guarantees the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” the King added.

Despite COVID-19, Kingdom remains major donor

King Salman acknowledged “economic difficulties,” but said despite such challenges the kingdom remains a major donor of humanitarian aid and global efforts to combat COVID-19 as a Group of 20 nation.

The coronavirus pandemic sent oil prices crashing last year, eating away at the kingdom’s key source of revenue. Saudi Arabia has led major oil producers in a pact to curb production to help support oil prices.