Saudi leadership discusses with Turkey’s Erdogan regional developments, peace process, bilateral ties

Yemen tracks down rebels, al-Qaeda elements

Major powers consider sanctions as Tehran speaks of breakthrough signs

Kabul put on high security alert after recent suicide bombings

U.S. plans to keep troops in northern Iraq after August

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan co-chaired a session of talks held by the two sides at the palace of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques here this evening.

During the session, they discussed the overall developments at the regional arena, particularly the Palestinian issue, stalled peace process in the region and efforts exerted to achieve just and comprehensive peace, ensuring the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on their national soil with Al-Quds as its capital in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy and the Arab peace initiative.

The talks also dealt with the latest developments at the international arena, the position of the two countries towards them in addition to the prospects for cooperation between the two countries and ways of enhancing them in all fields to serve their common interests, resulting in a strategic agreement between them.

The talks covered also the trade agreement between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)'s member states and Turkey, expressing hope in finishing the procedures of this agreement soon.

Moreover, the Saudi and Turkish sides also reviewed the latest developments of the strategic dialogue between the GCC and Turkey.

The talks were attended by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General; Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh; Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Abdul-Ilah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Interior; Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Daoud Oglu; a number of ministers and senior officials from the two sides.

King Abdullah had held a dinner party at his palace in Riyadh in honor of visiting Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his accompanying delegation.

The banquet was attended by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General; Prince Fahd bin Mohammed bin Abdulaziz; Prince Bandar bin Mohammed bin Abdulrahman; Prince Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Al Saud; Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region; Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister; Prince Abdul-Ilah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Interior; other princes, ministers and senior civil and military officials.

King Abdullah had earlier received at his palace in Riyadh visiting Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.

At the outset of the meeting, Erdogan shook hands with Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General; Prince Fahd bin Mohammed bin Abdulaziz; Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region; Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister; Prince Abdul-Ilah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Interior; other princes, ministers and senior civil and military officials.

On the other hand, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques shook hands with Erdogan's accompanying delegation including Ahmet Davutoglu, Foreign Minister.

Following that, the monarch welcomed the Turkish senior guest, wishing him and the accompanying delegation a good stay in the Kingdom.

For his part, Erdogan thanked the king for warm welcome and generous hospitality accorded to him and his delegation.

On Thursday (Jan. 21) Erdogan concluded his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

At Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport, he was seen off by Undersecretary of Madinah Region Governorate Suleiman bin Mohammed Al-Juraysh and a number of civil and military officials.

Earlier, the Turkish Prime Minister arrived in Madinah where he was received by Undersecretary of Madinah Region Governorate Suleiman bin Mohammed Al-Juraysh and a number of officials.

The Turkish Prime Minister visited the Prophet's Mosque to perform prayer and greet the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his two companions.

Meanwhile, Prince Mite'b bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Chief of the National Guard for Executive Affairs, received General George W. Casey Jr., Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

During the meeting, friendly views were exchanged and issues of mutual interest discussed.

A number of senior officials, civil and military, from both sides attended the meeting.

Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said on Monday that his country will consider increasing development funding to Yemen as a means of helping it counter a growing threat from the al-Qaeda terror network, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Monday.

Cannon met with his Yemeni counterpart, Abubakr al-Qirbi, who made a pitch for increased foreign spending, saying that it is key to preventing impoverished citizens from being lured into "radicalization and terrorism."

As well as humanitarian aid, the Middle Eastern country also needs support to train its military, Al-Qirbi told a news conference.

"We always say there will be no development without security and no security without development," said Al-Qirbi.

"Development provides people with better standards of living and this is how we can drain resources and recruitment by the terrorists."

Cannon was not specific on what help Canada may provide, but he suggested that targeting the country for Canadian International Development Agency aid and improving student exchanges are two possibilities.

While Canada and Yemen do not have strong economic ties, Canadian companies, such as Calgary-based Nexen, have been players in Yemen's oil industry.

Cannon acknowledged there is a school of thought that it is counter productive to support a government that some consider to be oppressive because it will fuel terrorism.

"I know there is a common view that is held in certain circles that would say that, but I don't share that and neither does the government of Canada," said Cannon.

"We do firmly believe that development is a key in being able to help countries restore themselves and give them full sustainability."

Cannon asserted, however, that Canada also stands behind the United States "and we will do what needs to be done . . . to thwart terrorism wherever it is."

Yemen was thrust into the international spotlight following a botched terror attack on Christmas Day on board a U.S. plane headed for Detroit. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian student accused of trying to ignite explosives on board, has been linked to al-Qaeda forces in Yemen.

Al-Qirbi's Canadian stopover came one week before an international conference of foreign ministers next week in London on how to help Yemen and counter the al-Qaeda threat.

The country's instability is widely viewed as an international problem and counter-terrorism analysts have described Yemen as a nightmare in the making, in part because it is only a short voyage from Somalia, where large portions of the country are already controlled by al-Qaeda-inspired extremists.

Yemen's top diplomat is has asked Canada to support his country's fight against terrorism and help with economic development programs, saying both are crucial to his country's future.

Qirbi was in Ottawa on Monday as part of a tour to rehabilitate his country's image following the failed attempt by Yemen's branch of al Qaeda to bomb a Detroit-bound passenger jet on Christmas Day.

"There can be no development without security and no security without development," said Al-Qirbi, who met with Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Cannon made no commitments, suggesting Canada is considering a request for increased development spending in Yemen to stop militants from recruiting poor vulnerable people to its ranks.

Yemen is a major focus of U.S. anti-terror efforts and the Yemeni government has vowed swift action to stamp out the militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Yemeni officials claimed last week that government air strikes killed six al Qaeda operatives, including the group's top military leader and three others who were on the government's list of the most-wanted al Qaeda figures in the country.

But the terror group denied in an Internet statement Monday that any of its leaders were killed in the strikes.

Al-Qirbi, however, said in Ottawa that he believes the dead men were simply buried before the military could verify the success of the operation.

Al-Qirbi stressed that along with military action, development support is crucial in fighting terrorism in his country. "The issue of security has been the focus of the media but it is not new to Yemen. There has been jihadist presence in Yemen for the last 20 years, ever since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan," he said.

"Consequently as the economic situation in Yemen has deteriorated, the jihadists have taken advantage of it, and increased their extremist activities within the country." Al-Qirbi would not publicly discuss the specifics of the request he made while in Ottawa.

But a draft version of his speech to diplomats and government officials, obtained by The Canadian Press, outlined several specific requests.

They include assistance to "strengthen good governance and democratic institutions," pay for development and education programs, train coast guard personnel, and establish an unspecified "Canadian presence" to assist "existing and future business and trade."

"We mentioned it in our meetings. We have to leave some things behind closed doors," Al-Qirbi said when asked why he cut those specifics out of his speech.

He moved to play down any threat to the foreign oil and gas companies operating in Yemen, including Nexen Inc. and Calvalley Petroleum, both based in Alberta.

He also touted business opportunities in mining, agriculture and tourism.

Meanwhile, Yemeni war planes struck at the rural home of an al Qaeda leader on Wednesday, pressing a government offensive against militants whose presence in the Arab country has alarmed Western governments.

Sana’a declared war on al Qaeda last week as pressure grew for a crackdown on the global militant group after its Yemen-based wing said it was behind an attempt on December 25 to bomb a U.S.-bound passenger plane.

"The home of the terrorist Ayed al-Shabwani was targeted in an air raid," a Yemeni official told Reuters. It was not known if Shabwani was at home in Maarib, east of Sana’a, at the time.

A security official said that al Qaeda militants led by Shabwani had used his farm to launch attacks on foreign tourists, power facilities and oil pipelines.

"They ... were even shooting at planes flying on training missions in the region," the unnamed official told the state news agency Saba, adding that the results of Wednesday's raid were being evaluated.

Shabwani was one of six al Qaeda militants that the government had previously said died in an air strike last week.

Al Qaeda later denied any of its members had been killed.

Separately, Yemeni forces shot dead an al Qaeda fighter who tried to steal a government vehicle, state media reported.

Western powers and neighboring Saudi Arabia fear that Yemen could become a failed state, allowing al Qaeda to use the country as a launchpad for further international attacks.

The Yemeni authorities are also fighting a northern Shiite insurgency and face separatist sentiment in the south.

Yemen has occasionally been hasty in announcing the deaths of militants. It said last month that another militant, Anwar al-Awlaki, might have been killed in an air strike.

But the death of the U.S.-Yemeni cleric, said to have traded emails with an American army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at a Texas army base in November, was never confirmed.

Amid the rising instability, Yemen's central bank said it injected $150 million into the foreign exchange market, but traders said the intervention did not stop the rial currency from falling to its lowest levels in years.

On the other hand, Britain suspended flights from Yemen under measures to tighten up border security, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament on Wednesday.

"We know that a number of terrorist cells are actively trying to attack Britain and other countries," he said.

Britain told Yemenia that its aircraft must first stop in a third country for security checks if they wanted to fly to London, an official of the airline told Reuters in Sana’a.

Greater scrutiny of suspect airline passengers and closer global cooperation announced by Brown are aimed at preventing a repeat of intelligence mistakes that allowed the Nigerian suspect in the Detroit plot to board a U.S.-bound flight.

Washington is considering allowing the Pentagon to train and equip a wider range of security forces, among them special counterterrorism units controlled by Yemen's Interior Ministry.

A report by a Senate committee said that some U.S. citizens suspected of training in al Qaeda camps in Yemen, including dozens who converted to Islam in prison, may pose a serious threat to the United States.

Two groups of Americans based in Yemen are causing concern for U.S. counter-terrorism experts in the Gulf region, according to the report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, prepared for release on Wednesday.

Most worrisome is a group of up to 36 former U.S. criminals who converted to Islam in prison and arrived in Yemen in the past year, ostensibly to study Arabic, the report said.

In Washington, the United States said on Tuesday that the latest talks by six world powers on Iran’s nuclear program were “constructive”, even though they failed to agree on new sanctions.

Philip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, told reporters that the powers were “moving on both tracks”, referring to diplomacy and the threat of further sanctions, reports AFP.

“We believe we are making progress,” he added.

The six powers – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia – are concerned by Tehran’s rejection of a United Nations-brokered nuclear fuel deal, under which most of Iran’s low-enriched uranium would be shipped abroad to be further enriched into fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran.

Iran has instead proposed a staged and simultaneous swap of low-enriched uranium with the nuclear reactor fuel.

Crowley said that Iran’s response to the proposal was “inadequate”, reports Reuters.

World powers have been pushing Iran to accept the deal and are also considering new sanctions against Tehran after it dismissed a year-end deadline to accept the deal.

On Tuesday, China urged other powers to show more flexibility in dealing with Iran's nuclear program, playing down prospects of sanctions.

On the other hand, the Afghan capital Kabul was on high alert Tuesday, a day after Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers struck the heart of Kabul, launching a wave of attacks and triggering battles with security forces that left five people dead and sent terrified residents fleeing.

The authorities are likely to face questions about how the militants were able to penetrate the highly-fortified centre of the city, although the NATO chief praised local security forces for their defense of the capital.

"Our security measures are always strict, we are always on high alert, and we will be tomorrow, and after," interior ministry spokesman Zamary Bashari said late Monday.

Heavily-armed militants targeted government buildings near the presidential palace, two shopping centers, a cinema and Kabul's only five-star hotel in a coordinated blitz of attacks launched at rush-hour on Monday.

Several suicide bombers blew themselves up at key sites, setting off blazing fires that sent plumes of black smoke into the sky, as Afghan security forces battled militants on the otherwise deserted streets.

Several children were also briefly taken hostage, a security official said, in the most dramatic strike on Kabul since the Taliban laid siege to government buildings in February 2009, killing at least 26 people.

The capital has avoided many of the bloodiest attacks waged by the Islamist militants since they launched an insurgency against the government and foreign troops after the toppling of the Taliban regime in the 2001 US-led invasion.

One child was killed, along with four members of the security forces, and more than 70 people were wounded, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said after President Hamid Karzai declared the situation "under control."

Seven militants were also killed, either by blowing themselves up or by being shot dead by the security forces.

"They were killed, taking the shame of defeat with them to the grave," said Atmar.

The Taliban strike coincided with the swearing-in of a number of Karzai's new cabinet ministers at the presidential palace, part of the painfully slow process of forming a government since the fraud-tainted election last year.

"The enemies of the Afghan people conducted a series of attacks, causing fear and terror among the population," Karzai said.

The government had said on Monday that Karzai was to announce a new plan aimed at forging peace with the Taliban, although the militants have repeatedly rebuffed efforts at negotiation.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen commended the role of the Afghan security forces in defending the city and restoring order.

The attackers "made it clear, in their choice of targets, that their aim is to reverse the progress that Afghans are making in building better lives and a better future," he said.

The Taliban, waging an increasingly deadly insurgency against the Western-backed Kabul government and the NATO-led foreign troops, claimed responsibility, saying it had sent in a squad of 20 suicide bombers.

Witnesses described terrifying scenes in the capital.

"I saw four people wrapped up in blankets coming and the guard went forward and asked them 'what are you doing'," said local grocer Ismail, who was in his shop in one of the malls when militants stormed in.

"One of them opened his blanket and showed the guard a suicide vest packed with explosives and said to him, 'get out of my way or you'll die'."

The head of Afghanistan's National Directorate for Security, Amrullah Saleh, said militants took two children hostage but later freed them after negotiations.

The United States condemned the attacks as a "ruthless" act by the Taliban, whose rebellion to topple the government and oust foreign troops has been gaining strength in recent months.

The last major attack on the capital was on December 15, when a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle outside the homes of former senior government officials, killing eight people and wounding more than 40.

On Iraq, the commander of the U.S. forces in the region said the complexity of the situation in northern Iraq means that more U.S. troops will remain in the region than elsewhere in the country after the March 7 elections.

Army Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, commander of U.S. Division North, said he expects more U.S. troops will be needed in Iraq’s seven northern provinces than elsewhere in the country.

Cucolo commands the 21,000-member division that covers the area from the Baghdad suburbs to Iraq’s borders with Syria, Turkey and Iran. He spoke via teleconference with Pentagon reporters from his headquarters near Tikrit.

American forces do nothing without partnering with Iraqi security forces, the general said. “That means all types of operations, from combat when necessary to stability operations -- the full spectrum, partnered,” he said. “We don't do anything unilaterally. It’s all with our Iraqi partners, in probably the most demographically complex battle space in Iraq.”

The area contains the “fault line” between Kurds and Arabs. The oil-rich province and city of Kirkuk remain possible flashpoints, Cucolo said, but he added that leaders on both sides of the divide pause whenever an incident takes place.

Overall, he said, the mission of U.S. forces in the region is to support provincial reconstruction teams, to move toward police primacy in the cities, and to establish capacity in Iraqi forces so they can assume U.S. battle space as American forces withdraw.

U.S. focus has been on “tamping down” violent extremist networks such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the general said. “They still exist,” he told reporters. “They’ve been knocked back pretty hard lately, but still, because they’re cellular in nature, still can pack a punch with a high-profile attack.”

Mosul – Iraq’s third-largest city – remains a problem. Mosul is a microcosm of Iraq, with all the ethnic and sectarian groups present in the nation. “We do not have … Iraqi police primacy in Mosul yet, because the Iraqi police strength is not sufficient,” Cucolo said. Iraqi soldiers maintain peace in the city.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is trying to stay relevant in Mosul, the general said, but Iraqi and U.S. forces have “knocked back” the group’s access to weapons, explosives and financing.

“We know this because the … elements are now resorting to extortion and kidnapping to get their funds,” he said. “We know this because the IEDs they’re using are much smaller than we've seen in the past. They’re trying to rustle up what they can.”

Everything is colored by the upcoming elections, Cucolo said.

American troops essentially will stand by and be available if the Iraqis encounter something they cannot handle, he said, but he added that he does not expect them to be needed.

Iraqis have a positive attitude, the general said. “Since I've been here, I've been impressed by many things,” he said. “I've been impressed by the quality of the Iraqi security forces, particularly the Iraqi army, but I'm very impressed with the desire for unity.” He said he could see the Kurdish security force in northern Iraq merging with the Iraqi military.

Cucolo said his concerns are the Kurd-Arab tension, any desire to interrupt the seating of the government, and the ability of the Iraqi security forces to assume the battle space.

“Right now, I have Iraqi units that are capable of independent operations at low level – at brigade and below,” he said. “Some Iraqi divisions are capable of independent operations, but the institution that gets them spare parts, that gets them bullets, that gets them the things they need to sustain routine operations -- that is still growing. All the right folks are working on it. It’s happening. It’s just not there yet.”