Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir has been in office since the beginning of the year and made his first official visit to Berlin early this week. On Monday morning (10 August), Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed him to Villa Borsig, the Guest House of the Foreign Minister in the north of Berlin, for an initial comprehensive exchange. Alongside bilateral relations, the agreement in the nuclear dispute with Iran, the Syria conflict and the fighting in Yemen were at the top of the meeting’s agenda.
At the ensuing press conference, Al-Jubeir opened by saying a few words in fluent German – he went to school in Germany for a while when he was young. Steinmeier emphasised the “long tradition of German-Saudi cooperation”, going on to say that in light of the multiple regional conflicts in the Middle East it was important for there to be a “strong and robust partnership” between the two countries.
Arab partners’ concern about the agreement with Iran
The agreement in the nuclear dispute with Iran was one of the key themes of the talks in Berlin. Given the concerns expressed by Saudi Arabia and the region’s other Arab states in the wake of the agreement of 14 July, Foreign Minister Steinmeier held a number of discussions to garner support for the deal. These included a telephone conversation between the German Foreign Minister and his counterpart in Riyadh in mid-July.
In Villa Borsig, Foreign Minister Steinmeier once again assured his Saudi opposite number that “we understand all of the concerns in the region.” The German Foreign Minister stressed that the responsibility of the E3+3 group had not finished “the day the agreement was signed”, but that if anything, it would be greater during the implementation phase when it came to ensuring that Iran lived up to its obligations. Steinmeier added that he was under no illusion that Iranian foreign policy had transformed with the signing of the agreement in the nuclear dispute. He said that he did however hope that “new opportunities” would open up, particularly with regard to the regional crises and that Iran would use the options available to it to help resolve them.
Focus on regional crises
In reference to the agreement in the nuclear dispute with Iran, both Foreign Ministers expressed their hope that the region would see new diplomatic initiatives. Commenting on the situation in Yemen, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that there had been a “turning point in military terms”. The Houthis’ control – in Aden in particular – had been wrested from them by the re-establishment of the Government’s sphere of influence. It was now important for the international community’s urgently needed humanitarian assistance to reach the people, he stressed.
The situation in Syria was a further discussion topic; the civil war has been raging for nearly five years and nearly 11 million people have fled. Foreign Minister Steinmeier pointed out that the international community had a duty “to find a way to reach a political solution in the medium term at least, and hopefully to de-escalate the military conflict in the short term”. Furthermore, following his most recent talks on the margins of the nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Steinmeier reported that the common assessment of the threat posed by ISIS meant that there was an increased willingness to cooperate at the international level. “Everyone knows that we have to find a solution before all institutions in Syria collapse irretrievably,” appealed Steinmeier in Berlin.
Human rights in Saudi Arabia
When asked about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Steinmeier noted the domestic policy changes of recent years. Fifty four percent of all students were now women. This was a sign of change within Saudi society. Equally though, Steinmeier stressed his desire for progress regarding the human rights situation in the Arab country. He hoped for a “humane solution” to the case of incarcerated blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and 1000 lashes of the whip in 2014.