Saudi Arabia’s hosting of talks aimed at finding a peaceful settlement to the war in Ukraine, observers say, points to further strengthening the oil-rich kingdom’s growing prominence in international affairs. Saudi Arabia has drawn 40 disparate countries, including the U.S., China, and India, and others from the Global South, to discuss the conflict.
Day 2 of the Saudi-hosted conference in Jeddah sees bilateral talks taking place. Senior officials from Ukraine and its Western backers, such as the U.S. and the European Union, are present as well as members of the Global South, who have been neutral or even allies of Russia over the conflict. This is China’s first time participating in such a forum. Beijing has kept close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia, rejecting international calls to condemn Moscow. Russia is not present but is monitoring the talks.
Observers and Western officials say Saudi diplomacy had been important in securing China's presence at the talks.
Analyst Dania Koleilat Khatib, head of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building in Beirut, told VOA that Middle East jitters that America has been withdrawing from the region encouraged Saudi Arabia to expand its relationships elsewhere. China is its biggest trading partner and helped patch relations with rival Iran. However Khatib says, it’s also been the U.S. that wants to engage with Saudi Arabia and encourage its diplomatic forays.
“Saudi willingly wants to diversify its friends and not rely on the U.S. It has been successful doing that. It’s reached out to China, Russia. It’s trying to build relations with Turkey, with Iran. On the other side, the U.S. is courting Saudi. We will help you gain a prominent role. The U.S. encouraged everyone to come and sent their national security adviser.”
Saudi officials see the talks as capping the country’s success in adopting a policy of strong ties to Ukraine, China and Russia.
Joost Hiltermann, who directs the International Crisis Group Middle East Program, told Agence France-Presse, that Saudi Arabia "wants to be in the company of an India or a Brazil, because only as a club can these middle powers hope to have impact on the world stage.” He added, though, "Whether they will be able to agree on all things, such as the Ukraine war, is a big question."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged there were differences among the participants and urged restoration of the rules-based international order.
A European official told Reuters that the talks have been positive and there was "agreement that respect of territorial integrity and [the] sovereignty of Ukraine needs to be at the heart of any peace settlement."