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Tunisian President Essebsi: Saudi-Tunisian ties are at the highest level

Published: Updated:

Relations with Saudi Arabia “have reached their highest levels,” said Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi ahead of a bilateral summit between the two countries expected to take place on Friday. Saudi King Salman had arrived in Tunis on Thursday on an official visit that is expected to result in joint ventures between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

It is expected that joint ventures between the two countries will be signed as part of the summit and that discussions will include political, economic, and security issues.

In an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya’s Rima Maktabi on Wednesday, Essebsi discussed his country’s relations with Saudi Arabia, its ties to the PLO and terrorism issues in Tunisia.

Tunisia is holding this year’s Arab League Summit on Sunday, which saw preparatory meetings taking place this week.

Discussing the Tunisian-Saudi relations, the president recounted the strong ties between Bourguiba and Saudi kings and noted “the major role which Saudi Arabia played in Tunisia’s independence,” which began when Bourguiba visited the Kingdom during Tunisia’s resistance against colonialism.

Ties with PLO

In 1982, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) relocated its headquarters to Tunisia after it was expelled from Beirut by Israel.
Essebsi noted that the Palestinians benefited from mingling with the Tunisians as they agreed to negotiate and later return to Palestinian lands, without being expelled.

On current developments pertaining to Palestine, the president said he does not know anything about the reports on the so-called “deal of the century.”

Commenting on American President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Essebsi undermined the move saying it was “just an American decision that does not obligate the world.”

Terrorism issues

Tunisia has suffered economically in the past few years after terror attacks targeted two tourist sites. Additionally, thousands of Tunisians joined conflict zones in Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Mali after 2011.

Commenting on repeated calls to let fighters who joined conflict zones return home, the president said the Tunisian constitution obligates him and the Tunisian people to allow fighters to return to the country.

“Many returned home and we’re dealing with them according to the law. Each (one) is a separate case. Many of these fighters are in jail as imprisonment is the fate of those who fail to commit to the state of law,” he told Al Arabiya.