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Saudi king’s visit to Russia to help improve bilateral relations — expert

October 03, 2017, 16:46 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The forthcoming visit to Russia by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will help normalize relations between the two countries, an expert says

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MOSCOW, October 3. /TASS/. The forthcoming visit to Russia by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud will help normalize and better relations between the two countries, a Russian expert told TASS on Tuesday.

"The Saudi king’s visit is aimed, first of all, at improving Russian-Saudi relations and promoting economic ties," said Boris Dolgov, a senior research fellow at the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies. "Naturally, topics for discussion will include regional problems, in particular, the conflict in Syria where Saudi Arabia is playing a negative role."

"Seen from historic perspective, relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia have been developing rather positively. But the current conflicts in the Middle East, first of all in Syria, have cast a negative shadow on these relations," he said, adding that relations between the two countries should ultimately regain positive dynamics.

"There is a whole spectrum of tasks on the normalization and further development of relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia," he stressed.

According to the expert, the timing of the Saudi king’s visit is rooted in a number of factors. "First of all, it is the progress made by the Syrian government’s army backed by the Russian Aerospace Forces in defeating the Islamist extremist groups affiliated with Islamic State (a terrorist group outlawed in Russia). And, it is no secret whatsoever that some of them are supported by Saudi Arabia," Dolgov noted. "This factor plays a major role as it is necessary to decide on their future and find a compromise."

Another reason prompting the Saudi king to finally pay the long-planned visit, in his words, stems from the country’s economic interests. "An economic aspect is important as well: Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum has raised the issue of ownership over the oil-bearing areas near the Iraqi city of Kirkuk claimed by both the Kurds and Iraq’s central government, which affects Saudi Arabia’s interests," he pointed out.

He did not rule out that such issues as production of hydrocarbons and their pricing would take center stage at the Moscow talks as well. "The oil-related issue will obviously be discussed. Oil prices and Saudi Arabia’s participation in the pricing process is a very important issue which is no less topical for the kingdom as political matters," he stressed.

Possible talking points during Moscow visit

According to Dolgov, the Saudi monarch plans to discuss with the Russian leaders several blocks of issues. "The sides will discuss a block of political issues, a block of economic issues, a block of global problems that will include relations with the leading countries of the West, first of all, with the United States," he said. "The agenda will include concrete matters linked with the overall situation in the Middle East and Syria in particular. It is not ruled out that the future of those Islamist groups that are affiliated with Islamic State and that are supported by Saudi Arabia will also be discussed."

Apart from that, Riyadh will probably try to get some insight on relations among the three Syrian ceasefire guarantor nations. "Relations inside the alliance of Russia, Iran and Turkey, which are the guarantors of the Astana agreements on the Syrian settlement, are also of interest to Saudi Arabia," he noted.

The expert said he was sure the Saudi king would propose discussing the situation in a number of crisis-stricken countries of the region. "Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum, its outcome and its impact on the region will be among the topics," he said. "The Saudi side is likely to have questions about Russia’s position on the Kurdish problem."

"Saudi Arabia would also like to find out Russia’s opinion on the positions of those countries which have a say in settling the Syrian crisis and the situation’s development throughout the entire region, namely Turkey and Iran," Dolgov noted. "The long-standing Sunni-Shina confrontation is still in place and now it is spiraling into political standoff which has reached an acute phase in a number of hotbeds of tension, such as Yemen. The situation in Yemen is a very important matter impacting Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran. This matter will obviously be discussed as Russia’s position on it is important for both Saudi Arabia and Iran."

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