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May 19, 2023 1:47 pm

Ukraine President Calls Out Iran in Surprise Arab League Visit


avatar by Andrew Bernard

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 19 May 2023 (Photo: Ukrainian government)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday called out Iran’s role in supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine during a surprise visit to the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia.

“Today is the four hundred and fiftieth day of the full-scale war waged against us by Russian invaders,” Zelensky said. “We do not have missiles as our enemy has. We have less air power. We do not possess numerous killer drones that Iran supplies to Russia. We do not have that much artillery. But, we do stay strong, because we do have truth on our side. Moreover, we are pushing the occupiers out of our land.”

Iran has supplied Russia with hundreds of so-called kamikaze drones that fly into their target and detonate. The White House on Monday said Iran has given Russia more than 400 of these drones since August and has used most of them, but is looking to buy more.

In his speech, Zelensky highlighted Ukraine’s ties to the Arab and Muslim worlds, including Ukraine’s native Crimean Tatar people. He also thanked Saudi Arabia and the “majority” of the summit’s attendees “for supporting firm international positions and the UN Charter.”

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Saudi Arabia has faced extensive criticism, particularly from the United States, for being insufficiently supportive of Ukraine. In October, Saudi Arabia voted to cut OPEC+ oil production, a move opposed by the Biden administration because of the resulting increased oil revenue for Russia and for its impact on US domestic gasoline prices.

Since then, Saudi Arabia has attempted to mend relations with its erstwhile rivals. In April, the Saudis and Iran agreed to a diplomatic normalization deal negotiated by the Chinese that ended a seven-year rift between the two regional powers.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia also welcomed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to the summit after Syria’s readmission to Arab League earlier in May. 

Assad in March 2022 referred to the Ukrainian president as a “Zionist Jew” who supports Nazi organizations in Ukraine. In his speech on Friday, Assad said that Syria’s future was “Arabism” without mentioning his Iranian backers, and denounced the “danger of expansionist Ottoman thought” in an apparent criticism of Turkey, which occupies parts of northern Syria, as well as “the crimes of the Zionist entity…against the resisting Palestinians.”

The State Department on Thursday reiterated its stand against normalization with Assad.

“We do not believe that Syria should be afforded re-entry into the Arab League,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said. “We will not normalize relations with the Assad regime, and our sanctions efforts will remain in full effect.”

The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs committee also condemned Syria’s readmission.

“Readmitting Assad to the Arab League is a grave strategic mistake that will embolden Assad, Russia, and Iran to continue butchering civilians and destabilizing the Middle East,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) in a joint statement on 8 May. “Assad and his backers faced no accountability for murdering hundreds of thousands of Syrians and detaining and torturing tens of thousands more, using chemical weapons, brutally bombing Syria into oblivion, and undermining regional security through narcotrafficking.”

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