President Masoud Barzani [R] receives Saudi Arabia's new Consul General to Erbil Faisal bin-Mansour al-Utaybi [L]. Photo: Kurdish presidency
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Kurdish President Masoud Barzani received the new Consul General of Saudi Arabia to Erbil on Thursday, highlighting the strengthening relations between the two sides.
President Barzani welcomed Faisal bin-Mansour al-Utaybi to the Kurdistan Region as the country’s new Consul General, a statement from the Kurdish presidency said.
“President Barzani despite expressing his happiness to the appointment of the new Consul of Saudi Arabia to Erbil, has reiterated the need to strengthen the relations with Saudi Arabia,” the statement read, adding that the institutions of the Kurdistan Regional Government are ready to help the work of the Saudi consulate in the Kurdistan Region.
Utaybi conveyed greetings from the King of Saudi Arabia, expressing his wish that relations between Erbil and Riyadh will enter a “new phase,” especially with respect to “economic and trade” ties, the statement continued.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a visit to Baghdad on Saturday, holding a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. It was the first such visit by a high ranking Saudi diplomat to the country since 1990. Jubeir is said to have promised to appoint a new ambassador to Baghdad and resume direct flights between the two countries.
In mid-January, a top Iranian commander made headlines in the Kurdistan Region after he asked the Kurdish government to call on the Saudi consulate to leave Erbil because, he thought, its presence in the Kurdistan Region was destabilizing.
The KRG hit back, saying no one is entitled to request that a consulate be closed in Erbil.
“The existence of foreign consulates and diplomatic missions in the Kurdistan Region is in accordance with the Iraqi and Kurdistan Region’s laws,” the KRG’s statement said. “Their works and activities are also within the framework of these laws. No one is entitled to request that a consulate be closed in the Kurdistan Region.”
The KRG Department of Foreign Relations (DFR) lists on its website consulate generals from 21 nations, and 14 other various forms of national representations in Kurdistan. Additionally, the European Union Delegation has a liaison office, as does the United Nations Mission to Iraq, among others.
Kurdish officials often regard the presence of these diplomatic missions in Erbil as a success for Kurdish diplomacy.
Iran has a consulate in Erbil, and another in Sulaimani, while Saudi Arabia has only one consulate in the capital Erbil, opened in February 2016.
Head of the DFR, Falah Mustafa, told Rudaw in January that the KRG’s policy is to stay removed from the wider regional rivalries between Sunni majority Saudi Arabia and Shiite majority Iran.
“We are not a threat to any country, and the proof to that is our past. We are open in our policy, and we will not become a part of a regional or global rivalry. And if countries have rivalries, we hope that they will not bring that to Kurdistan Region, because we are concerned about the peace, stability, and welfare of our people.”
Tensions between Tehran and Riyadh escalated in the aftermath of the Hajj stampede in Mecca in September 2015 and the Saudi execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in January 2016.
Additionally, Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposite ends of the wars in Syria and Yemen.