Davos: Saudi youth want to achieve ambitions ‘now’ — Foreign minister says — “Competing visions” for the future of the Middle East — one characterized by light, the other by darkness

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir addressing the World Economic Forum. (WEF)

DAVOS: Empowering young people and removing barriers to their success is key to the transformation of Saudi Arabia, the foreign minister told the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday.

Saudi youth “have hopes, they have dreams, they have ambitions — and they want it now,” Adel Al-Jubeir told the forum.

“They expect transparent government, efficient government … You have to open up the path and get out of the way. That’s how our country will rise,” he said.

“And in order to do this you have to have a fundamental transformation of your country, you have to open up areas that previously were not open: Entertainment, recreation, open up the media space, allow more public discussion, and deal with corruption in a very clear and strong manner.”

Al-Jubeir described the two “competing visions” for the future of the Middle East — one characterized by light, the other by darkness.

“The vision of darkness is sectarianism, it’s trying to restore an empire that was destroyed thousands of years ago, it’s using sectarianism and terrorism in order to interfere in the affairs of other countries so that you can promote this revolution and this imperialistic expansion,” Al-Jubeir said.

“That’s the dark vision … it’s called Iran.”

Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s minister of defense, said her country also sees “a lot of problems” with Iran. “We share many, many worries about Iran, without any question,” she said.

But von der Leyen said the 2015 agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program was important in tackling such worries. “The Iran deal encapsulates the core problem, and therefore we think we should stick to the deal as long as Iran sticks to the deal too,” she said.

US President Donald Trump is expected to raise the need to address Iran’s mounting influence in the Middle East when he arrives in Davos this week. Trump will meet world leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and British Prime Minister Theresa May, and will deliver a speech on Friday.

During his meeting with Netanyahu, Trump will “reiterate America’s strong commitment to Israel and efforts to reduce Iran’s influence in the Middle East and ways to achieve lasting peace,” US national security adviser H.R. McMaster said.

Trump has been outspoken in his criticism of the Iranian regime, and tweeted his support for protesters during demonstrations across Iran in December and January.

The US president believes the nuclear agreement, the signature foreign policy of the Obama administration, has serious flaws, and has threatened to withdraw from the deal unless those flaws are fixed.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri was interviewed at Davos on Wednesday, where he spoke of US sanctions against the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group, which he said were not targeting the wider Lebanese economy.

“I am not worried,” he said. “The focus of the United States is Hezbollah, it’s not the Lebanese people or the Lebanese economy.”

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