Five years on from the start of the bloody civil war in Syria, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal told CNBC that the global community has “done nothing” to help.
Speaking to CNBC from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, the influential member of the Saudi Arabian royal family said there had been little progress over Syria, where President Bashar Assad is battling both rebel groups and the so-called Islamic State for control of the country.
The civil war has prompted hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee their home country on top of the 260,000 people estimated to have died in the conflict so far, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The world community has been sitting back and doing nothing,” Prince Turki told CNBC on Tuesday.
“Now there is talk of the Vienna process (Syrian peace talks) and I don’t know why, when it comes to the Middle East, it’s always a process…(but) we want finality. The world community has the means to put an end to this massacre. Russians, the Americans, the Saudis, the Iranians, the Turks and Europeans, we all have the military, financial and political means to say ‘enough is enough.’ Stop the fighting, that’s the important thing, stop the killing.”
Iran, ‘fix your act’
Saudi Arabia and neighboring Iran are involved in Syrian peace talks although both countries are dealing with a dispute of their own.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two Middle Eastern powerhouses divided down religious sectarian lines with Sunni-majority Saudi at odds with Shia-led Iran, have been strained of late following the Saudi execution of a leading Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia had severed diplomatic relations with Iran “because of what they have done” but said both countries were involved in the peace process for Syria.
“I don’t see any problem in doing something together there,” he said, although he added he didn’t know when diplomatic ties would be restored.
The Iranian foreign minister is also attending Davos this year, and Prince Turki, who is both a former intelligence chief in Saudi Arabia and ambassador to the U.S., was asked what kind of message he would have for him.
“Fix your act, remove your troops from Arab territories; they’ve just admitted to having 200,000 IRGC (Armyof the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) troops all over the Arab world, why are they there? They should get out, they’re the cause of problems there.”
Trouble at home?
His comments come as Saudi Arabia is having to contend with an increasingly volatile macroeconomic and geopolitical backdrop of its own.
The price of oil has fallen around 70 percent since June 2014, when a barrel cost around $114. Since then, a glut in global supply and the failure of demand to keep up has brought prices increasingly lower. On Wednesday, oil had fallen further to $28 a barrel.
The decision by major oil producer group OPEC (whose de facto leader is Saudi Arabia) to maintain record production levels, rather than cut output, has also added to oil market woes.
While that strategy was largely designed to retain OPEC’s market share and put pressure on rival oil producers, as shale oil producers in the U.S. and Canada, the policy has also damaged Saudi’s domestic economy and that of its oil producing neighbors in the Middle East.
As a result, six Gulf oil-producing countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) are planning on introducing a sales tax for the first time as the drop in oil prices hits government budgets hard.
Prince Turki was confident that enough work had been done to prepare the country for tougher times.
“During the boom years, a lot was done to prepare for potential downturns like what happened recently…There are a great deal of opportunities that have been prepared for in the past ten years,” he said.
“We are diversifying in our economy,” he added. “I am really quite satisfied in my own mind that things are going to be much better than is thought by those in the media and among pundits and so-called experts.”