Reforms Facilitating Business Boost Investment in Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Reforms Facilitating Business Boost Investment in Saudi Arabia

Saturday, 18 November, 2017 – 12:00
Cars drive past the King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo
Riyadh – Shujah Baqmi

The investment climate in Saudi Arabia enjoys an advanced position among world economies. This climate resulted from the record-breaking number of reforms carried out by the kingdom, as part of its pursuit to enhance business climate for small and medium projects.

The report issued by the World Bank Doing Business 2018 confirmed this fact.

The report, released on Thursday, showed that the kingdom conducted six reforms – the highest number of reforms in the MENA in 2017.

The kingdom implemented 30 reforms since 2003, majorly focusing on starting a business (seven reforms), real-estate registration (five reforms) and getting credit (four reforms), showed the report. It added that now it takes 18 days to start a business in Riyadh compared to 81.5 days, 15 years ago.

The report revealed that procedures to start a business were facilitated through installing an e-system. As for real-estate registration, efficiency in administering lands has been enhanced through developing an e-portal.

Further, protection of minority investment was consolidated through increasing shareholders rights and their role in major decisions, setting conditions to increase transparency and organize disclosure. Also, the time required for importing and exporting has been shortened through reducing required documents for the customs.

Rita Ramalho, Acting Director of the World Bank’s Global Indicators Group, declared that the completed reforms during the last year are quite comprehensive and they cover six out of 10 fields linked to the business performance used to determine the countries’ position.

The kingdom’s performance is considered good in regards to protecting minority’s investors (10th rank worldwide), and it occupies rank 24 as to property registration and ranks 38 in granting licenses.

Nader Mohamed, Country Director of the GCC Countries in the MENA region of the World Bank, stated that the huge progress achieved by the kingdom in one year is a proof of the government commitment to reform investment climate.

Mohamed pointed out that the coordinated efforts among governmental parties send a strong indicator for investors interested in the kingdom – he noted that the World Bank is delighted with the foundation in which reforms were based, ensuring that the ambitious vision of the kingdom requires succession and continuity of economic reforms.

He described ongoing reforms that aim at reducing dependency on oil as significant, the thing that demands to transfer five percent of Aramco and supporting the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to become the biggest sovereign fund in the world.

Saudi-Iraqi Joint Statement: Opening Border Crossings, Developing Ports and Roads  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi-Iraqi Joint Statement: Opening Border Crossings, Developing Ports and Roads

Monday, 23 October, 2017 – 07:15
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman he speaks with Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi in Riyadh on October 22, 2017. Saudi Press Agency via Reuters
Riyadh – Asharq Al-Awsat

Saudi-Iraqi ties have entered a new stage of cooperation and coordination in which the two countries signed on Sunday a minutes of establishing a Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council (SICC).

The first meeting of the council was convened and it resulted in an agreement to open border crossings and develop ports, roads and border areas. They also agreed to review an agreement on customs cooperation and study bilateral trade.

The council expressed its satisfaction with the state of the oil market following an agreement between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers. The SICC stressed the importance of participants’ full commitment to the agreement until its target is achieved.

“The Council was briefed on the results of the Kingdom’s participation in the Baghdad International Fair, which was a great contribution to economic and trade relations. The Saudi side also noted the level of welcome and hospitality enjoyed by the Saudi delegation from reception to departure,” a statement said.

They also agreed to develop private sector partnerships, inform businessmen of trade and investment opportunities and encourage the exchange of technical and scientific expertise and research.

The Iraqi side thanked the Kingdom for its initiative in studying the implementation of customs ports, which will facilitate bilateral trade.

The SICC announced the resumption of flights from the Kingdom to Iraq, the opening of a Saudi Consulate there, and the reopening of Saudi chemical manufacturing company SABIC’s office in Iraq.

In addition, it was agreed that Saudi Arabia will participate in exhibitions in Iraq, including the Baghdad International Fair, the Basra Oil and Gas Exhibition, and the Business and Investment Forum.

During the SICC’s first meeting, the two parties discussed its priorities for the next two years, implementation of its work and the formation of a working group. Its second meeting will be held in Iraq’s capital Baghdad in the presence of ministers and senior officials from both countries.

 

Qatar Has Two Choices To Resolve Gulf Dispute: Conform Or Live In Isolation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Two Choices to Resolve the Qatar Crisis

Those who know the history of Qatar’s disputes with its neighbors know that finding a solution is easy. I will reveal this solution at the end of the article, but first, here is a brief summary of the history of the crisis.

It began in the late 1990s after Qatar reignited the dispute with Bahrain over the islands. In 1995, the Doha coup took place and new Prince Hamad rejected the Saudi mediation and instead insisted on heading to the International Criminal Court. This ultimately fell in Bahrain’s favor that won a ruling that granted it power over most of the disputed land.

Had Qatar accepted the mediation of late King Fahd, it would have gotten more or at least as much as Bahrain.

The Qatari government then turned against Saudi Arabia and renewed its dispute over new border areas after it had resolved the first dispute through the mediation of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. That settlement saw Saudi Arabia make concessions to Qatar in 1992. The second dispute was resolved in 2001 through appeasing both sides.

Qatar however reneged on its pledges and waged media wars of incitement against Saudi Arabia. It harbored those who oppose the Kingdom and backed al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden, who in his first speech called for changing the regime in Saudi Arabia by force.

Despite the numerous settlements, Doha continued on financing and supporting opposition groups that want to topple the governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

After the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, Qatar sought to expand its incitement and began to target the United Arab Emirates because it was backing those opposing Doha. It then turned its attention to Egypt in an unprecedented and blatant way, vowing to topple the regime of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

This would all have been understandable if the Qatar government itself accepted change through democracy or by force. The problem however is that it is the least tolerant Gulf state. It had sentenced a Qatari poet to 15 years in prison over a poem!

Four Gulf countries finally said enough and they all announced that they were severing ties with Qatar.

It appears that there a number of conditions that can restore the situation back to normal, but it seems that they will not go with the reconciliation approaches of 2013 and 2014. Qatar had at the time signed in Riyadh a pledge of 20 points, of which only one has been implemented.

The truth is that the four countries can live in peace without having ties with Qatar. It seems however that Qatar is the one who cannot tolerate this situation given its outcry after the June 5 statement on cutting ties.

How can this problem be solved and how will Qatar be able to come out of the crisis?

It wants to repeat its old methods of bringing in mediators and offering pledges and perhaps change its behavior. It will then continue in its attempts to topple the regimes of these four countries or incite strife against them.

It should be noted that Qatar in its last Riyadh agreement had vowed to stop the incitement machine. Indeed, this was witnessed through its al-Jazeera channel that has been adopting a calm approach in the three years that followed the agreement. Qatar had in secret however set up websites and television stations that had taken up the incitement mission.

It may have expelled a number of anti-Gulf figures from Doha, but it gave them homes in Turkey and London. It has continued to finance and support them through secret networks that it set up in those countries.

Qatar has since the eruption of the current crisis been adopting the same old approach. It sought the help of Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah, but these countries have learned their lesson. They announced that they will continue in severing ties and living in peace without Qatar. They will seek to put an end to anything that has to do with it and destroy its internal networks.

Doha is faced with two options for resolving the crisis. It can either completely concede to the demands of the four countries or live in isolation from its surrounding.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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President Trump Says Goodbye To Saudi Arabia: Next Stop, Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

NBC’s Bill Neely Trump Trip Notebook: So Long, Saudi Arabia

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Donald Trump’s remarkable visit to Saudi Arabia ended as it began: with warm applause from Saudi leaders who displayed real pride in the fact that an American president chose the religious center of the Muslim world as the first stop on his first trip abroad.

Political leaders proclaimed a new era, Saudis gushed at the “elegantly respectful” look of first lady Melania Trump, analysts hailed the biggest arms deal in American history while Sunday newspapers praised the renewal of “this natural American-Muslim alliance” that in the 1980s had fought “successfully against atheism and communism.”

Play
Highlights From Trump’s Address to the Muslim World

There is something remarkable too about the leader of the Western world speaking in the city where Osama bin Laden was born. A New Yorker, Trump, addressing Muslims in the country where 11 of the 19 terrorists of the September 11th attacks were born.

Yet here he was urging more than 40 Muslim leaders to unite to “drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists … drive them out of this earth.”

This, he said, is a battle between good and evil and urged Muslim countries had to “fulfill their part of the burden” — not just wait for American intervention.

But there was none of the inflammatory language typical of domestic Trump. He did not use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he has specifically used several times before and which is considered offensive by many. In fact, he said he was “not here to lecture” the Muslim leaders, or to impose an American way of life.

Image: Trump, King Salman, al-Sisi open the World Center for Countering Extremist Thought
President Donald Trump, Melania Trump, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi open the World Center for Countering Extremist Thought in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017. Saudi Press Agency / EPA

At the final major event of his visit — a conference on social media and countering terrorism — the president’s schedule got squeezed and he had to leave the speaking to his daughter Ivanka.

“This young generation is a generation that can build a future of tolerance, of hope and of peace,” she said. “And that’s what this last day has been around: tolerance and hope and peace.”

Still, there is a definite security threat here and it’s clear it’s being taken seriously: Every major road in Riyadh is lined with troops and police.

But surrounded by huge photographs of himself in a city dripping in gold, while making deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars — Trump may have felt he was in a special but familiar place.

Everywhere you look in Central Riyadh there are giant images of Trump and the Saudi King side by side. “Together,” they proclaim, “we will prevail,” a slogan that boats of a renewed military and economic bond between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. An alliance against rivals in Iran and threats from ISIS.

Here, all is apparently forgiven. They have forgotten Candidate Trump, who railed against Muslims on the campaign trail, and even Early President Trump, who tried to push through a ban on Muslims entering America. Now they have Best Friend Trump, who sees in the Saudis an opportunity to make money and buy peace in the region.

Play
Trump: ‘We Are Not Here to Lecture,’ But to Offer Partnership0:43

There are similarities between the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United States. The rulers of the Desert Kingdom are a family, the al-Sauds — King Salman and his many Princes. They do business in the billions of dollars but often in a personal, traditionally Arab way.

That’s been Trump’s way too, and he’s done business here in the desert through his family. The arms deal the two countries have signed, worth at least 100 billion dollars, was done with the help of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. He amazed a visiting Saudi delegation at the White House earlier this year by picking up the phone to the boss of Lockheed Martin and haggling over the price of weapons the Saudis found too expensive.

There’s even quiet talk here of his next stop, Israel, as well as the common enemy shared by Saudis, Gulf Arabs and Israelis: Iran.

Image: King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and President Donald Trump
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and President Donald Trump take part in a group photo at the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017. Saudi Press Agency / EPA

Leaders Begin Arriving in Riyadh for Arab-Islamic-US Summit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Saudi Arabia

Leaders Begin Arriving in Riyadh for Arab-Islamic-US Summit

The leaders and heads of delegations of Arab and Islamic countries began arriving in Riyadh on Saturday to attend the Arab-Islamic-US summit that will be held in the Saudi capital the next day during US President Donald Trump’s visit.

Trump and the Arab and Muslim leaders will meet on Sunday to address ways of building more robust and effective security partnerships to counter and prevent the growing threat of terrorism and violent extremism around the globe through promoting tolerance and moderation.

Among those who arrived were Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, President Adama Barrow of Gambia, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso, the head of the Libyan National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, President Alpha Conde of Guinea, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, President Alassane Ouattara of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd bin Mahmud Al Said, President David Arthur Granger of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, President Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin, President Macky Sall of the Republic of Senegal, Suriname’s Foreign Minister Yildiz Pollack, and President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan.

Trump and First Lady Melania arrived in Riyadh earlier Saturday. The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques welcomed the US president at the King Khalid International Airport.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Saudi-Egyptian Summit in Riyadh to Discuss International, Regional Developments

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Saudi Arabia

Saudi-Egyptian Summit in Riyadh to Discuss International, Regional Developments

Egypt

Cairo – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will hold a summit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday in Riyadh.

The summit will address means of boosting strategic bilateral relations and consultations on various regional and international issues of common interest, especially combating terrorism.

The Egyptian Presidency issued a statement on Friday saying that the Egyptian President will arrive in Riyadh following a visit by the King during the sidelines of the 28th Arab Summit that was recently held in Jordan.

The statement said that the meeting comes in the framework of the two sides’ keenness on maintaining joint coordination, which contributes in enhancing the distinguished relations between Riyadh and Cairo in various fields, and discussing ways to deal with the challenges facing the Arab nation.

For his part, Egyptian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Nasser Hamdy told Asharq Al-Awsat that Sisi will arrive in Riyadh heading a high-ranking delegation of ministers, noting that the visit will comprise a Saudi-Egyptian summit.

Hamdy explained during the phone call with Asharq Al-Awsat that the visit will last two days to discuss political issues, terrorism and strategic files.

He said that a number of meetings between ministers of two countries will be held on the sidelines of the summit.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Significant Breakthroughs For Riyadh Diplomacy In China And In The U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Significant Breakthroughs for Riyadh

This has been a significant week for Saudi diplomacy: reinforcing relations with China, the biggest oil importer in the world and opening a new page with US President Donald Trump to mend what has been ruined by former President Barack Obama who strengthened ties with Iran against Gulf and Saudi interests.

Saudi Arabia that has found itself cornered due to wars, oil and geopolitical changes is carrying out a defense campaign in return — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is convening with China leadership that asked to mediate with Iran that is now seeking reconciliation. Meanwhile, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz met with the US president.

A Saudi spokesperson described to Bloomberg the meeting in the White House as “a turning point”, saying: “Today’s meeting has put things on the right track and marked a significant shift in relations, across all political, military, security and economic fields.” There is a clear hinting on fixing what has been ruined by Obama and restoring special relations between the two countries – these relations were established based on the outcome of the meeting held between King Abdulaziz and US President Theodore Roosevelt on board of the Navy cruiser Quincy after the end of World War II.

Officially, little has been said on the meeting of Deputy Crown Prince and Trump, who has become a president two months ago, but the White House showed huge interest. Trump held the meeting two days ahead and included the vice-president in it.

What has been stated by unofficial sources reveals that Washington has changed its policy towards Iran and that it would not sit idle when it comes to Iran’s terrorist activities. Weeks ago, the US administration announced a different stance in which it permitted loading ammunition and providing intelligence information to support Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Saudi-US relations were tense during the presidency of Obama. In fact, the whole region underwent an unprecedented turmoil because Obama’s openness towards Iran urged its military expansion in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Chaos is one of his tenure consequences, also.

Among the topics raised by Prince Mohammed during his visit was to persuade Trump with a new relation that seeks mending the situation, confronting Iran’s manipulation and fighting terrorism – the common enemy of everyone – via fighting it socially and economically. A spokesperson in the delegation pointed out that the US party is interested in reinforcing participation in the economic vision projects.

In China, Iran was not the only topic on the table especially that relations are good in: oil, economy, military cooperation and critical files, basically the military cooperation. There is also the promising project of China, the Silk Road – a giant economic project of complex political problematic issues because it passes in conflict regions. This road might benefit from Saudi Arabia as a passage or a parallel route.

Information released by Beijing reveals that it will quietly continue to consolidate its presence in west Asia and east Africa. China is the second strongest economic power after the US and, as major countries, needs raw materials, energy sources, trade passages and a protection for its investments and interests.

Unlike other major countries, China does not rely on military presence to impose its influence but rather uses its economic presence to impose its stances and secure its interests.

There are two models in the Middle East: one that seeks reinforcing relations via economic and development cooperation and another that uses wars and terrorism as a method to impose its relations.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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Toyota May Build Its First Factory In Saudi Arabia: Allowing Women To Drive Would Double Market

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Riyadh – Attesting to the undeniable investment attraction that is Saudi Arabia, Japan’s market giant motor corporation, Toyota, announced plans to launch its first ever production factory in the Kingdom.

Such an announcement confirms that grand-scale companies trust in Saudi economy and view it with optimistic potential.

Speaking at a Japan-held forum, Chairman of the Japanese Business Federation Sadayuki Sakakibara, explored economic and investment cooperation between the Kingdom and Japan.

Sakakibara stressed the importance of the Kingdom’s economic role for Japan and the keenness of the Japanese business sector toward the achievement of the strategic economic and developmental objectives of the Saudi-Japanese Vision 2030 that aims to bolster bilateral cooperation

Earlier, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the National Industrial Cluster Development Program (NICDP) and the Toyota Motor Corporation for the feasibility study of an industrial project to produce vehicles and parts in the Kingdom.

“The study would take into account the evaluation of development of a local supply base using materials produced by major Saudi companies like Sabic, Maaden, Petro Rabigh, and other major industrial companies in the Kingdom,” the official Saudi state news agency reported.

It further aims to enhance the development and attraction of a Saudi workforce and put in place the adequate training programs.

Abdul Latif Jameel, as a local distributor for Toyota, will be also taking part in the joint feasibility study.

Toyota remains the leader in Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) car markets with more than 500,000 units sold in the GCC in 2016, according to SPA.

Moreover, on the third day of the fourth leg of a seven-nation Asian tour, the king attended the Saudi-Japanese Vision 2030 business forum aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.

King Salman was received at the forum by Minister of Economy and Planning Adel Fakeih and Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko.

Saudi FM Makes Historic Visit To Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWSPAPER ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Saudi FM Makes Historic Visit to Iraq

Saudi

Baghdad – Saudi Foreign Ministry Haidar al-Abadi reiterated that Saudi kingdom stands at the same distance from all Iraqi components and supports Iraq’s unity and settlement.

Jubeir’s statements came during his historic visit to Iraq during which he met with Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

During his unannounced visit, Jubeir was accompanied by a team of Saudi security and economic experts, according to Abbas al-Bayati, member of foreign relations parliamentary committee.

During the meeting with Abadi, the two discussed issues of common interest in addition to means of enhancing bilateral relations.

Jubeir described his meeting with Abadi as positive and fruitful. He congratulated Iraq on its achievements in countering terrorism, stressing the desire of both countries to eliminate the scourge of terrorism.

“There are also many shared interests starting with the fight against extremism and terrorism in addition to opportunities for investment and trade between the two countries,” he added.

Jubeir’s visit to Baghdad is the first by a Saudi foreign minister since 1990.

Abadi’s office said the two men “discussed cooperation in various fields, including the fight against ISIS.”

Speaking to reporters after meeting Jaafari, Jubeir stated Riyadh’s willingness to help bridge the sectarian divide.

The Saudi foreign minister also met his Iraqi counterpart, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Jaafari welcomed the strengthening of ties between Baghdad and Riyadh, on both political and economic levels, noting that each side will work to improve trade and other economic cooperation.

During the meeting, they discussed issues of common interest in addition to means of enhancing bilateral relations. Jaafari said: “The ties that bind the two countries are many, and the visit comes to restore bilateral relations to their correct course.”

He also welcomed moves that will benefit both countries, including the reopening of the Jumaima border post between the neighbors and other types of economic cooperation.

The minister hailed the visit of Jubeir especially that he is the first foreign minister from Saudi Arabia’s kingdom to visit Iraq after 2003, showing that Iraq is keen to establish the best relations with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

He said: “We have to induce efforts and continue dialogues and exchange visits between the two countries’ officials to build strong relations to could play a strategic role in treating the challenges of the region”.

Jaafari stated that he has commissioned the undersecretary of the Iraqi foreign minister to soon visit the kingdom and follow up the technical issues to activate the dialogues between Baghdad and Riyadh.

From his side, the Saudi FM stressed that the connections between the kingdom and Iraq are many and this visit is to restore the bilateral relations to its right line.

Jubeir called to exchange visits between the officials of both countries and activating the mutual files, showing that there is a will to work on opening Jumaima outlet between Iraq and the kingdom and discussions to open an air bridge and activating the Civil Aviation between both countries.

Iran Arrests Eight Sunni Foreigners Said To Be Planning Terrorists Attacks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Iran says holds eight foreigners planning attacks

Iranian security forces have arrested eight hardline Sunni Islamists suspected of planning attacks to disrupt celebrations for Iran’s Islamic revolution in the past week, Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said on Saturday.

Alavi said the eight were “Takfiri” foreigners, some of whom were linked to a “Takfiri” leader who had been killed in Iran, IRNA reported. He did not give details of which countries they were from.

“Takfiri” is a word used by predominantly Shi’ite Muslim Iran to refer to hardline, armed, Sunni Islamist groups.

“Initial information indicates that Kalashnikovs and other equipment were obtained to carry out terrorist operations … in Tehran and several other cities under the direct guidance of persons based in neighbouring countries,” Alavi was quoted by the state news agency IRNA as saying.

In August, Alavi said the leader of a Sunni militant group in southeast Iran responsible for attacks against security forces and civilian targets has been killed, although it was not immediately clear if he was person he suspected those arrested of being linked to.

Although Alavi did not identify which country Iran suspected of guiding the suspects, Iranian officials often accuse regional rival Saudi Arabia of backing ultrahardline Sunni militant group Islamic State.

Riyadh denies the charges and says Tehran destabilizes the region and sponsors terrorism, an accusation rejected by Iran.

On Friday, Iran’s prosecutor-general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said security forces had smashed a cell linked to Islamic State near Tehran that wanted to “sabotage” rallies on Friday marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.

Iranian security forces have repeatedly announced arrests of Islamic State fighters and sympathizers.

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