A $2m US lobbying effort and petitions from European legislators are piling pressure on Saudi Arabia to release a philanthropist prince jailed for two years without charges amid an intensifying royal crackdown.
The detention of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud and his father since January 2018 is seen as part of a clampdown under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that has swept up potential political rivals, individuals accused of corruption and, at times, figures posing no visible challenge to his hold on power.
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In March, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, King Salman’s brother, and the monarch’s nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef were detained. Nayef was ousted as Crown Prince two years ago.
The clampdowns have also swept up family members of Saad Aljabri, former aide to bin Nayef, who fled to Canada.
Prince Salman is seen by many as an unlikely target; the multilingual 37-year-old, who was educated at France’s Sorbonne University, apparently espoused no political ambitions and earned the reputation of being a “walking blank check” for funding development projects in poor countries.
“This is not just an unlawful arrest,” an associate of the prince told AFP. “This is daylight kidnapping. This is a forced disappearance.”
After being detained for approximately one year in the high-security Al-Ha’ir prison near Riyadh and later in a private villa with his father Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the prince was moved to a secret detention site in March, multiple sources told AFP.
He was mysteriously returned to the villa last week to be reunited with his father, three of those sources said.
It remains unclear why he was moved to the secret site. His telephone calls to his family are monitored by Saudi intelligence, the sources said.
But his return may be a tentative sign that international pressure for his release is working. Saudi authorities did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
A delegation from the European Parliament implored Saudi authorities to release detained royals, including Prince Salman, during a visit to Riyadh in February, according to a source and an internal report of the tour seen by AFP.
“The European Parliament already asked for information about the case in a letter addressed… to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which (remains) unanswered,” Marc Tarabella, a vice chairman of the Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arab peninsula, wrote to the European Commission.
“I would like to ask you to raise this issue… with the highest relevant authorities in Saudi Arabia appealing for Prince Salman’s release.
“I remain confident that the release would positively impact the relations of the European Parliament with Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.
Separately, leading Washington lobbyist Robert Stryk’s Sonoran Policy Group signed a $2m contract in May to advocate for the prince’s release “with the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the European Union”, according to a US justice department filing seen by AFP.
Stryk, known to have close connections with the administration of US President Donald Trump – an ally of Prince Mohammed – was recruited by Hashim Mughal, a Paris-based confidant of Prince Salman, according to the filing.
A source described Mughal, a Pakistani national, as the prince’s former financial adviser who raised $2m from his personal wealth and by tapping the influential royal’s friends.
The international effort is a gamble that could backfire in a kingdom whose authoritarian rulers are strongly averse to public criticism.
But, as private appeals to the rulers go unheeded, the campaign may be the only hope at a time when the kingdom is grappling with a coronavirus-led economic slump and unease is rising in Washington with Prince Mohammed’s aggressive policies.
‘Game of thrones’
Prince Salman is among a wave of royals detained as Prince Mohammed, also known as MBS, eliminates potential rivals to amass power unseen by previous rulers.
Two adult children and a brother of Aljabri, former aide to bin Nayef, were also detained in March, with a source close to the family calling them “victims of a Saudi game of thrones”.
Aljabri, exiled in Canada, earlier attempted to get his children out of Saudi Arabia but authorities had placed them under a travel ban, the source told AFP.
Princess Basmah bint Saud, another royal perceived to be close to bin Nayef, has been jailed in Al-Ha’ir for a year, without charges, along with her daughter.
Her family lost all contact with the princess after they posted a desperate Twitter appeal for her release in April, a source has told AFP.
An unlikely rival
Prince Salman’s non-political philanthropic work makes him an unlikely rival to MBS.
What may have rankled the royal court is the prince’s meeting with Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat and Trump critic, just before the US presidential elections in 2016.
His associates say “nothing political” was discussed.
Schiff’s office told AFP he does not recall specifics of the discussion, but they may have talked about “Saudi Arabia generally”.
“Those who pushed for this arrest gravely misread US politics,” Kirsten Fontenrose, a former White House official responsible for policy towards Saudi Arabia and now with the Atlantic Council, told AFP.
“Jailing someone for meeting with a vocal Democrat will only make it more difficult for Trump to maintain close ties to the Saudi ruling family leading up to the US election.”
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
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The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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