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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Turki Al Faisal: Saudi Arabia had an obligation to intervene in Yemen

Veteran Saudi diplomat says the kingdom's long history of supporting its neighbour has been ignored

Prince Turki Al Faisal in Abu Dhabi. The National
Prince Turki Al Faisal in Abu Dhabi. The National

Saudi Arabia had an obligation to intervene in Yemen after the country descended into civil war, senior statesman Prince Turki Al Faisal told The National.

The former ambassador to the US and UK said the kingdom had a "double responsibility to defend its own interest and the region's as well", and would continue to play a role on the world stage.

He said it was the Houthis who started the war, but that fact had been over looked by the press.

The Iran-backed rebel's takeover of the capital Sanaa in September 2014 disrupted a process of political transition brokered by the GCC with international backing.

"Saudi was morally obliged to come to the aid of Yemen's legitimate government," Prince Turki said during a policy briefing at the Beirut Institute Summit in Abu Dhabi.

A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to push back the Houthi rebels and restore the government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

Prince Turki said the international community needed to remember that Saudi Arabia has been the biggest contributor of humanitarian aid to Yemen’s since the 1970s.

“Unfortunately, when we put out good news about Saudi Arabia it is not mentioned in the news because they are not exciting enough for the editorial boards of major news outlets, because they choose to portray negative aspects of the Yemen war,” he said.

The UN is leading efforts to bring Yemen’s government and the Houthi rebels to the negotiating table in Sweden next month after more than three years of war have left eight million Yemeni civilians severely affected by food shortages and plunged the country into economic crisis. Previous peace initiatives have failed, most recently in September when the rebels refused to attend talks in Geneva.

“The kingdom and the coalition partners including the UAE have been trying to get peace talks going since 2014,” Prince Turki said.

He called for the international community to push for the Sweden talks to take place, adding the Houthis were now under pressure to negotiate.

“The advancement of Arab coalition in the port city of Hodeidah and in Saada near the border with Saudi are the reasons why the Houthis are seeking negotiated settlement,” he said.

Saada province in northern Yemen is a Houthi stronghold. Government troops have recently reported big gains in the Marran district where rebel leader Abdulmalik Al Houthi is thought to be in hiding.

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On the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Prince Turki said the murder has horrified all of Saudi Arabia, from the leadership down.

He said the murder of the former government insider turned self-exiled critic was a “horrific” and a “dastardly act” and that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.

“The kingdom has taken steps to meet the challenge of that event by trying the people who are responsible for it and bringing them to court, and hopefully they will get the justice they deserve,” Prince Turki said.

Quoting a verse from the Quran, he said the killing of an innocent person was like “the killing of all humanity” and said the murder of Khashoggi “falls into that context”.

Prince Turki described Khashoggi as a “professional journalist”. The two had worked together between 2003 and 2007, when the prince was the Saudi ambassador in London and then Washington.

“I employed him as a spokesman for the Saudi embassy in London and for the embassy in Washington when I served there — he was a professional journalist,” Prince Turki said.

Khashoggi's murder has put Saudi Arabia in the international spotlight. The government has said the killing was unsanctioned and carried out by security officials without the knowledge of the country’s leaders.

“[The murder] has had its impact on the image of Saudi Arabia. It will be helpful of course if others, instead of jumping to conclusions, that they will wait until the process and investigation is carried out,” Prince Turki said.

The kingdom has repeatedly dismissed suggestions that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had any involvement or previous knowledge of the plot.

“In today’s media-mad world presumptions and assumptions and prior decisions take priority over truth and orderly process so it’s something that we just have to face,” the prince said.

Saudi prosecutors investigating the case say they have arrested 21 people so far, 11 of whom had been charged. They said they were seeking the death sentence for five of the suspects.

“My expectation is that everything will be brought out on the table," Prince Turki said.

The way forward, he said, is to put out what precisely happened. He called on Turkey to co-operating with the Saudi authorities in their investigation.

“It is not useful to use media leaks as a way to reach the truth. Our Foreign Minister [Adel Al Jubeir] has requested from the Turkish authorities to hand over all details and evidence that is available to them,” he said, pointing out that both sides have an interest in arriving at the truth about the incident.

On the rapid development and changes taking place in Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed, Prince Turki said the kingdom had three main goals to accomplish.

Saudi Arabia aims to end reliance on oil income, and to elevate the position of women so they can become participants and partners in Saudi's economy and society, Prince Turki said.

And, finally, the kingdom seeks to be "a contributor for the benefit of humanity", he said.