Prince Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud, the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Britain, has condemned the Turkish incursion into Syria as a “disaster” for the region.
Prince Khalid, who took up his post earlier this year, said that another element of instability in the region could play out to the advantage of Iran, which has consistently taken advantage of conflict.
“We are concerned what happened in Syria with Turkey doesn’t give an awful lot of confidence,” he told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) in Westminster.
“I think it is a disaster for the region,” he said.
“Who has benefited from every single disaster in the region for the last 10 years?
“We are not hegemonic we don’t want to control the world,” he added. “Whereas other countries are trying to control everything.”
Prince Khalid pointed to the pressure points stemming from the Iranian policies, cautioning the dangers of Saudi Arabia being “poked” in the stomach and then in eye.
“We have been trying to be a calming player in this issue,” he said. “The last thing we need is more conflict in the region. We have much more to lose.
“The region needs more grownups in the room and we are trying to operate more responsibly.”
A “lot of steps” stretching as far back as 2005 by Saudi Arabia were aimed at enhancing the Iranian relationship but setbacks had prevailed, he said.
Referring to efforts to end the fighting in Yemen, Prince Khalid said getting round the table with the representatives of the Houthi forces that occupy Sanaa was not automatically unlocking the situation.
“Every time we take a step forward with the Houthis we seem to take a step back,” he said.
“The people who want to talk to you can’t deliver, the people who can deliver don’t want to talk to you.”
Questioned by an audience including former ambassadors and representatives of leading businesses, Prince Khalid also said there was a perception gap over the diplomatic stand-off with Qatar.
“Qatar fell out with us,” he said. “There has been an issue there that goes back 15 years and we have tried to work with Qatar but they didn’t want to work with us.
“More people seem concerned about Qatar, an ultrarich country that according to its own account is doing just fine, than Cuba, which is an impoverished nation under sanctions for decades,” he added.
Reflecting on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Riyadh, he said that Moscow’s relationships in the region gave it a key role in reducing tensions.
“We will do whatever is in the interest of Saudi Arabia and the region,” he said. “That is the policy of Saudi Arabia and will always be the policy.”