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SAUDI ARABIA NEWS: EU and Saudi Arabia’share the same concerns, agree upon a way forward’ in Horn of Africa. Arab News
RIYADH – The Horn of Africa is a desirable location for investment due to its combination of natural resources and lucrative consumer markets. It also has an important geostrategic area. Concomitantly, the region, including the Red Sea, faces challenges that go beyond national borders, including conflict, violent extremism, human trafficking, forced displacement, COVID-19 and environmental stresses.
Annette Weber is the EU’s special representative to the Horn of Africa. Her main task is to promote the bloc’s interests and policies in the region, as well as the Red Sea and individual countries. Special representatives are active in the consolidation of peace, stability, and the rule of Law and support the work done by the EU’s high representative on foreign affairs and security.
Weber visited Saudi Arabia this week for the first time since July 1st. She had “very fruitful conversations” with Adel Al-Jubeir, Minister of State for African Affairs Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan, Abdullah Al-Rabeeah (supervisor general of King Salman Humanitarian Relief Center) and Sultan Al-Marshad (CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development).
Weber stated that “the reason I am here to Saudi Arabia is for a better understanding the Saudi position on Red Sea” and that he wanted to exchange views about the current situation in Sudanese and Ethiopia during an exclusive interview with Arab News.
“I believe we are in agreement on nearly everything. Although we share many of the same concerns, we also agree on the best way forward. We need to know what to do to get involved. We had very productive, very positive meetings .”
Is Saudi Arabia, which is the backbone of Gulf Cooperation Council, able to play a role in the EU’s pursuit of its goals at the Red Sea and Horn of Africa?
Weber met with Adel Al-Jubeir, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, during her trip to Saudi Arabia this week. This was her first visit to the Kingdom since July 1. (KSAMOFA)
Absolutely,” said Weber, citing the Council of Arab and African Countries Bordering the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which was set up in January 2020 with the objective of securing the waterways. This council, which includes Egypt, Jordan and Eritrea as well as Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti, also targets to improve cooperation between countries to combat piracy and smuggling.
Weber stated, “The council represents a landmark and I hope we can find common interests there.” “For us in Europe this is the main trade route to Asia, carrying 23 to 30 percent of our trade. We share a common interest in maritime security, fighting piracy, and fighting terrorists operating from our shores.
“We share more than one common interest. The Red Sea is more of a connector than a divide. It’s very interesting to observe this in the relations between Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, Horn of Africa .
Weber made a stop in Bahrain on her way to Riyadh to participate in the International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama Dialogue. This annual high-level forum addresses the most pressing security issues in the Middle East.
She spoke at a session entitled “Security Dynamics in the Red & Mediterranean Sea”, a topic of great importance as the Council of the European Union plans to strengthen its partnership with the Horn of Africa, and create a new strategy.
Weber stated that “my mandate as an EU special rep is to connect the dots among the countries of Horn of Africa” and the Red Sea region. It is not about crisis diplomacy, but more about (expanding the) potential of the region. It is about bringing together all the major countries in the Horn as well as the Gulf.
It all depends on the type of issue we are dealing. For example, if the issue is a negotiated ceasefire we work closely with the Americans, but also with the Gulf States, the African Union, and the UN. This is why multilateralism in the region is so dynamic. As the special representative, this is where my attention lies. It’s reflected in both our common reading of it and in the possible solutions .
Sudanese protesters walk past burning tyres during a demonstration calling for a return to civilian rule in 40th street in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman. (AFP)
Since 2011, the EU has been one of the world’s largest donors of humanitarian assistance to the Horn of Africa, pouring millions of euros into projects in five countries besides Sudan. Weber stated that the bloc would prefer to move from humanitarian projects to development projects.
She stated that Ethiopia is a good country and there’s no reason Ethiopia should have humanitarian aid. The potential is great. We have been investing in the reforms. We would be happy to shift from humanitarian aid to investment if there were no war or conflict.
Annette Weber poses for photos with the Saudi Fund for Development Team. (Supplied)
“We are not satisfied with the need for humanitarian assistance. We see that, in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa, there is a lot of humanitarian need.
“This is where you are not satisfied. It’s man-made hunger and man-made need that are preventing us from being able to invest in the future. While we are happy for the money being used, we would love to see it be used for something better in the future. This is the feeling I got from my Saudi Arabian counterparts today: We all want to invest in green energy, a better economy and more sustainable development.
“In the future, the economy will be all about smart technology and efficient water management rather than humanitarian assistance.” We cannot judge those who have been forced to flee war. This is why we must help .”
In Sudan, more than 13.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 1 million registered asylum-seekers and refugees.
Since November 2020, the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia and border tensions in Al-Fashaga have resulted in thousands of new refugees.
Weber believes that a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ethiopia is the best outcome.
She stated that if it doesn’t happen, then we will see a civil war which will bring down the whole region. “Ethiopia is feeling urgent. If the warring sides don’t reach a negotiated ceasefire and if they continue to hope they can win militarily then we will see the destabilization of the largest country in the region.
This will have repercussions throughout the Red Sea, across the entire region, which could affect Europe and Saudi Arabia. The Ethiopians must deal with the political aspect of the dialogue in Ethiopia. .”
We all need to talk about the ceasefire.
Weber expressed optimism that the African Union had appointed a chief mediator to facilitate a settlement and said she was “very happy” with the region’s engagement. However, the EU, US, and Saudi Arabia must continue to be involved in the process. Weber warned that if the conflict goes on, there will be a breakdown along ethnic lines, which will take many decades to heal .”
Weber also mentioned Sudan as a high-ranking country during her talks in Riyadh. An agreement signed on Sunday has helped to calm the crisis and pave the way for a transitional civilian government. After weeks of unrest that was triggered by an October coup, the military reinstated Abdalla Hamdok as Prime Minister and promised to free all political prisoners.
Weber spoke to the KSrelief regarding the mutual concern about conflict in Horn of Africa and discussed possibilities for KSA-EU cooperation. (@KSRelief_EN)
Weber stated that it was a positive step. “Our understanding, as the EU, has been clear throughout: We saw stability in cooperation between the two sides and in taking into account the declarations of the people in the streets during the 2019 protests.
“We saw stability in the young generation being present for the first time and that this would be reflected in the future. Stability was seen in a mix government that included Hamdok and military. We didn’t consider the military taking its own decisions without considering the civilian side as a stabilizing future for Sudan.
“We shouldn’t confuse Sudan with other countries within the region. They were not new to the streets. They have always been clear about their political views. It was unacceptable for them to accept a military coup.
“Now, the work begins again. They have to convince civilians that this isn’t a loop and that it is not going back to whenever they feel tired of civilians .”
Does the EU have any influence or leverage over the military and political forces in Sudan?
“We need to reach a greater consensus because the other regions have more influence. Weber stated that this is the place where we need a shared vision.
UN warns of rising risk of starvation in areas of conflict and drought in Horn of Africa. (AFP/File Photo)
“We all have different communication channels and ways of communicating. We might not be the most effective in engaging with one side but we may be more successful in engaging with the other. It’s crucial to reach a common understanding about where you want to go and to use all of your (tools of engagement
A German national with more 25 years of experience in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea region, Weber has facilitated peace talks at the highest political levels. Weber has a track record of providing advice to the UN, EU and German governments on the region. She also spoke at the Munich Security Conference about regional issues.
Do you think that the EU can realistically make a difference given her background?
Annette Weber and Assistant Editor-in Chief of Arab News Noor Nugali. (AN photo)
Weber stated that the Horn of Africa countries have been facing such difficulties for decades, even centuries. However, we shouldn’t forget that there were two transitions in the region over the past two years. We had Sudan, and we also had a very hopeful transition for Ethiopia. I believe that things are possible.
“This is where change can be supported, where people feel they have control over their own futures and can make a difference. We also have an obligation as human beings to help those who are involved in conflict.
“I wish that we could bring more positive engagement, investment (and energy) to these transitions than just alleviate the pain. The people of the Horn of Africa countries have an interest in their future. They want to stabilize and strengthen the region. They also want to interconnect the region. It’s not about playing with each other, but rather connecting politically, culturally and economically. We cannot do this, but we can help. Here is where I see .”
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