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MOSCOW, December 16. /TASS/. Riyadh’s initiative for creating a coalition of Muslim states for struggle against terrorist groups is nothing but Saudi Arabia’s attempt to torpedo the Vienna-based Syrian settlement process, led by the United States and Russia, the head of the Politics and Religion Institute, member of the presidential council for interaction with religious organizations Alexander Ignatenko told TASS in an interview.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman al Saud, number three in the kingdom’s hierarchy, declared the establishment of another anti-terrorist coalition in addition to the already existing two, those led by the United States and Russia. He declared that 34 countries of the Muslim world had agreed to unite to fight against the terrorist Islamic State. On the list of the newly-founded coalition’s members are Prince Mohammad bin Salman al Saud mentioned Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Bahrain, Turkey, Tunisia, Sudan, Somalia, Palestine Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Egypt, Nigeria, Yemen and a number of other states.
The Kremlin’s response to this initiative was reserved. "Hypothetically speaking, yes. The pooling of efforts in the struggle against extremist and different manifestations of it is a positive development. But, before offering any comments one has to understand the specifics," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Ignatenko believes that Saudi Arabia is determined to form a bloc of Sunni centers of power capable of confronting Shiite Iran in Syria and pro-Iranian groups in the Middle East in general. "Riyadh’s proclaimed struggle against the Islamic State is a cover-up of Saudi Arabia’s real intentions to fight against Tehran and Iranian influence in the region, including the Arabian peninsula," Ignatenko said.
"Saudi Arabia is at war with the pro-Iranian Houthi group in Yemen and it has been trying to persuade some other Sunni countries — Egypt, Pakistan and Senegal — to join in. To little avail, though. Riyadh has made a decision to the universally recognized threat — the Islamic State — as a plausible pretext for creating a coalition and to draw in the 34 allies the defense minister has mentioned," Ignatenko said.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry on Saturday disclaimed any knowledge of the country being included in the new coalition, adding that it had learned the news from the daily papers. "Not only Lebanon, but some other countries the Saudi Defense Minister had mentioned are reluctant or unable to participate in the coalition and they will not. These are Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Mali, Algeria and Senegal, which is too far away from the Arabian peninsula. A coalition of Muslim states is rather a hoax. The more so, since Prince Mohammad bin Salman al Saudi has acknowledged that it took just 72 hours to implement the initiative," Ignatenko remarked.
He pointed out that the initiative was put forward shortly before another round of talks on a Syrian settlement — the so-called Vienna process — was due to begin in New York on December 18. US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow on Tuesday in order to persuade Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to take part in the meeting. After Kerry was received by President Vladimir Putin Moscow and Washington managed to narrow disagreements regarding the struggle against the Islamic State and Syria’s political future.
"Saudi Arabia is very angry the United States and Russia are now acting as co-sponsors of the Syrian settlement. It’s a real sore spot. The monarchy is determined to torpedo the Vienna process and to make sure the crisis in the Middle East should be settled under Riyadh’s auspices to the detriment of its geopolitical rival Tehran," Ignatenko said.
The president of the Middle East Institute Yevgeny Satanovsky told TASS, "It is beyond all doubt that none of the would-be Muslim coalition members will send its troops to fight against terrorists. The coalition will remain nothing but just a sheet of paper. Any country Riyadh will give enough money to will agree to be enlisted."
Riyadh needs the anti-terrorist coalition of Muslim states that the Saudi Arabia has proclaimed an established fact as a scheme to press for its own leadership in the region, a pattern where there will be no western countries involved," Satanovsky said.
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