Riyadh/Vienna, 12 February 2013 Press release

APA: Spindelegger in Riyadh – crisis areas and human rights discussed

Foreign Minister calls for a death penalty moratorium in Saudi Arabia – economic cooperation is stressed

Riyadh/Vienna, 12 February 2013 – Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger (People’s Party) discussed the current crises in the Near and Middle East and in North Africa during his visit to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. The question of human rights in the Wahhabi Kingdom and economic issues were also discussed. In their meetings, the Vice-Chancellor and Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal focussed specifically on Iran, Syria, Israel and the Palestinians and also Mali, Alexander Schallenberg the spokesperson for the Austrian Vice-Chancellor told APA.

He added that the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince had expressed interest in maintaining the political stability of the region. Conflicts were unwanted he said, drawing attention to the country’s oil exports. He intimated, however, that Saudi Arabia was unhappy with Iranian efforts to achieve hegemony and its nuclear weapons programme.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was reported by the Austrian daily newspaper "Der Standard" to have said on the subject of Iran that efforts were being made to prevent Teheran from developing nuclear capacities. There could be no doubt that a nuclear arms race would result should Teheran succeed in achieving an atomic weapons capability. He pleaded for a Middle East without atomic weapons.

On the subject of Syria Spindelegger and his ministerial counterpart were in agreement that President Bashar al-Assad had lost his legitimacy. Austria was sceptical, however, about supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition. Spindelegger underlined that the objective was to find a peaceful solution. A further aim was to bring the Syrian conflict before the International Court of Justice.

Spindelegger declared in a statement issued to APA that Saudi Arabia is a partner in focal issues of the future such as the struggle against terrorism and in energy questions. The country plays a strategic role in the Near and Middle Eastern, a region currently in a process of radical change.

"A new quality has been achieved in our relationship through the establishment of the International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna", the Vice-Chancellor said. This was also the reasons why he had brought up issues in which the two sides have a different approach. These included above all human rights.

First cautious reforms such as adopting 20 percent women delegates to the advisory council, the Majlis al-Shura, should provide a spur for dealing with other existing limitations in the areas of justice, the death penalty and corporal punishment, the rights of free assembly and freedom of opinion, the rights of women and religious freedom. He had thus called for a moratorium at least on the death penalty and condemned, in particular, the cruel manner in which the sentence is carried out by decapitation, Spindelegger said.

Saudi Arabia is by far the largest Austrian trading partner in the region with a total annual trade volume of one billion euros. Spindelegger said he saw it as an important sign that he had been able to open a joint economic forum in Riyadh organised with the Federal Economic Chamber of Austria (WKÖ) that was bringing Austrian business people together with Saudi partners.

Spindelegger will leave for Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, where he will meet with among others the UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah al-Nahayan.

(ends) za/bae

APA0643    2013-02-12/20:32