'No direct Saudi relationship' with Israel over Red Sea islands, says Saudi FM

Menna Alaa El-Din , Monday 11 Apr 2016

The FM said that although Saudi Arabia is committed to international treaties involving the two islands, it will have no contact with Israel over the formerly Israeli-occupied islands

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir (Photo: Reuters)

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir said that there would be "no direct relationship" between his country and Israel following Egypt's handing over of two Red Sea islands – the formerly Israeli-occupied Tiran and Sanafir – to Saudi Arabia. 

In an interview with TV presenter Lamis El-Hadeedi on the CBC TV channel, Al-Jubair affirmed that there will be no contact between Saudi Arabia and Israel regarding the Islands.

"The islands are Saudi, they were occupied by Israel and then returned to Egypt, which has handed them back to us," Al-Jubeir said.

However, he stressed that Saudi Arabia is committed to international treaties involving the two islands, pointing to the 1979 peace treaty signed by Egypt and Israel, which includes the islands. 

"There are agreements and commitments that Egypt has agreed to regarding these islands, and Saudi Arabia is abiding by these commitments without having a relationship or communication with Israel," Al-Jubeir said.

'The Islands were always Saudi'

The CBC interview with Al-Jubeir came shortly after an Egyptian cabinet announcement on Saturday that control of the islands would be given to Saudi Arabia.

The statement said that the decision was the culmination of a six-year process involving studies and 11 rounds of negotiations between the two countries.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia signed a number of political and economic agreements during a five-day visit to Cairo by King Salman Bin Abdel-Aziz, including a maritime border demarcation agreement, with the Saudi foreign minister describing the current relationship between the two countries as "special."

The agreement triggered a huge wave of controversy and confusion, with two conflicting camps within Egypt arguing over the rightful ownership of the islands.

Opponents of the agreement reject arguments made by the Egyptian cabinet and the Saudi leadership that the two islands fall within Saudi maritime waters, insisting that both islands are Egyptian.  

The decision is yet to be presented to the Egyptian parliament for discussion and ratification.

"The islands were always Saudi and I don’t think anyone in Egypt doubts that," Al-Jubeir said. "Talk about drawing up the borders has been going on for decades, and now the decision has been made in a way that satisfies both sides."

When asked why Saudi Arabia decided to seek a resolution of this issue at this time, the Saudi foreign minister said: "Every country wants to [resolve its border disputes] with other [countries], even Egypt drew up its borders with Cyprus. Saudi Arabia wants to draw up its borders with its neighbours."

He said that Saudi Arabia has a history of settling border issues with neighbouring countries, citing similar situations in the late 20th century involving Iraq, Qatar, the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

"Saudi Arabia seeks to resolve its border issues so things are clear between us and our neighbours in a way that serves the interests of all sides," he added.

He said talks over the islands have been ongoing since the time of Egypt's King Farouk and Saudi Arabia's King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, including negotiations in the last 10 years.

Red Sea bridge

El-Jubeir refuted reports that the recently-announced Red Sea bridge connecting the Asian and African continents would be constructed by Saudi Arabia in return for the border demarcation agreement.

"There have always been talks about the bridge, and now a decision has been made to have a final say on this [issue]," Al-Jubeir said, while stressing on the impact the bridge would have in terms of economy, society and politics.

He described the planned construction of the bridge as "a historical step in connecting Asia and Africa and Saudi Arabia with Egypt."

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said the bridge would be named after Saudi Arabia's King Salman.

Egyptian-Saudi positions on Syria and Yemen do not conflict

Saudi foreign minister Al-Jubeir also refuted claims that Egypt and Saudi Arabia had opposing foreign policy positions on the war-torn Syria and Yemen.

"There is no contradiction in opinions, our goals are one in all issues. However, there might be a difference [in opinion] on how to reach these goals," he said.

On Syria, Al-Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia and Egypt want a peaceful solution to the Syrian civil conflict to be reached by the Syrian people, and which includes the protection of Syrian unity and sovereignty.

"We both do not want the division of Syria," he said.

Al-Jubeir also said that Egypt was the first to join the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against Houthi rebels in March 2015, adding that Egypt was among the first countries to stress the importance of the return of state legitimacy in Yemen.

Egyptian relationship with Turkey and Qatar

When asked about how he sees the relationship between Egypt and Turkey, Al-Jubeir said that he believes both countries are important and have influence over the region.

"We hope that they can resolve any conflict between them through dialogue," he added.

El-Jubeir also gave his take on Egyptian-Qatari relations, saying that Saudi Arabia was willing to act as a mediator if both "brothers" asked.

"I think there is already a connection between the two countries, as well as attempts to converge viewpoints. I predict and wish that they are able to get over their conflict that I do not think is as deep as claimed by analysts," he added.

On the Muslim Brotherhood

When asked by El-Hadidi about whether Saudi Arabia considers the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, Al-Jubeir said that the country considers any group that calls for violence or kills innocent people a terrorist group.

The Brotherhood has been banned in Egypt and deemed by authorities a terror group.

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