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Saudi King Signs Counterterror Deals with Malaysia, Indonesia

Ray Sherman and Tia Asmara
Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta
2017-03-01
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Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (left) and Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak talk during the signing of a series of memoranda of understanding between their nations in Putrajaya, Feb. 27, 2017.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (left) and Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak talk during the signing of a series of memoranda of understanding between their nations in Putrajaya, Feb. 27, 2017.
AFP

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday signed counterterrorism agreements with Southeast Asia’s two largest Muslim nations as Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud wrapped up a visit to Malaysia and traveled on to Indonesia.

The king arrived in Indonesia for a nine-day visit – the first trip there by a Saudi monarch in nearly 50 years – following four days in neighboring Malaysia. He plans to travel on to China, Brunei, Jordan, the Maldives and Japan.

Before the king departed for Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia issued a joint statement announcing the establishment in Malaysia of The King Salman Center for International Peace, which is scheduled to launch within three months and focus on combating terrorism globally.

In addition to terrorism, King Salman and Malaysian officials discussed the Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and Iran’s alleged interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

“The two sides completely agreed on the need to intensify and concert the Islamic world’s effort to confront extremism, reject sectarianism and to move the Islamic world toward a better future in line of objectives and purposes of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to achieve the international peace and security,” the joint statement said.

Malaysian and Saudi Arabian officials agreed to intensify joint efforts to combat terrorism in all forms without linking it to “any race, color or religion.”

The King Salman center will be established in collaboration with the Intellectual Warfare Center at the Ministry of Defense in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Security and Defense Center at Malaysia’s Defense Ministry, the Islamic Science University of Malaysia and the Muslim World League, according to the statement.

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Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (center) welcomes King Salman of Saudi Arabia on his arrival at Halim Perdana Kusuma Airport in Jakarta, March 1, 2017. (Indonesian Presidential Press Bureau)

Indonesia agreement

Later in the day, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo welcomed King Salman to the Presidential Palace in Bogor, West Java.

“I believe Indonesia can be a strategic partner in achieving the 2030 vision of Saudi Arabia through the close economic cooperation as a fellow Muslim country,” Jokowi” Widodo said.

“We thank His Excellency the President. I hope this visit could enhance bilateral relations between the two countries,” King Salman responded.

Later, the two countries signed 11 memoranda of understanding that included a focus on world-wide terrorism.

“Countering transnational crime between Indonesia and Saudi Arabia was signed by Indonesian Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian and the Saudi Arabia police chief,” Jakarta announced in a statement from the Presidential Palace.

While the statement did not detail the level of cooperation, Osama bin Mohammed Abdullah Al Shuaibi, the Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, on Tuesday told reporters that one of the royal visit’s main goals was to sign the counterterrorism memorandum.

“We know that Indonesia suffered from bombing and terrorism. We will work with Indonesia in this field. We can exchange data, share experiences, and we can beat these guys,” Osama told reporters at the Saudi Embassy in Jakarta.

Zuhairi Misrawi, an expert on the politics of Islam in the Middle East, said Saudi Arabia trusted Indonesia – the country with the largest Muslim population in the world – to combat terrorism and offer de-radicalization programs.

“We can exchange information about terrorism in the Middle East because Saudi Arabia knows very well about the situation of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda over there,” Zuhairi told BenarNews.

Oil deals worth billions

During his trip so far, the king also signed off on major oil deals with the two Southeast Asian nations.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced a $7 billion investment in Malaysian state energy firm Petronas in an effort to bolster a bid by Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, to go public next year. A day later, the kingdom and Indonesia signed an agreement that builds on a $6 billion deal between Aramco and Indonesia’s state-owned energy company, Pertamina, Agence France-Presse reported.

Malaysia and Saudi Arabia also announced the signing of four memoranda and joint ventures valued at 9.74 billion ringgit (U.S. $2.19 billion) in oil and gas ventures, Islamic finance, halal products and manufacturing.

Bilateral trade between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia has been on a strong upward trajectory in recent years, increasing by 27.8 percent in 2016 alone, to a total of 13.99 billion ringgit ($3.14 billion), Prime Minister Najib Razak wrote in a blog post welcoming King Salman last week.

Najib has said the relationship between Kuala Lumpur and Riyadh was at an “all time high” and described King Salman using  terms “the highest ever” or “best ever relations” between the two countries during the visit.

1MDB links

Meanwhile, an opposition leader in Malaysian pegged the Saudi king’s visit as an opportunity to draw attention to corruption allegations against Najib involving the state fund known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Reports surfaced in 2015 that Najib had received hundreds of millions of dollars in funds siphoned from 1MDB, but he claimed the money was a political donation from the Saudi royal family to fund candidates in the 2013 general election. Last year, Malaysia’s attorney general cleared the prime minister in a corruption probe into the fund transfer.

“The Saudi silence during the recent visit of King Salman to Malaysia, refusing to declare that the donation came from Saudi royal family, is loud and resounding,” Democratic Action Party leader Lim Kit Siang said in a statement.

Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.

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