Extremism, not Putin, is No. 1 problem, Sarkozy tells Riyadh forum

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president

:: Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, said extremists were the biggest problem the world faced today, not President Putin of Russia who has been accused of meddling in elections in the US and some European countries.

Speaking on the final day of the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Sarkozy praised Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his pledge on Tuesday to return the Kingdom to a moderate past, while looking forward to a technology-driven future amid reforms designed to encourage the country’s overwhelmingly youthful population — 70 percent are under 30.

Sarkozy said he saw Putin as a potential ally in defeating terrorists “and assassins” and in bringing about a solution in Syria. Referring to Trump, he said “my understanding is that he won an election, so of course we have to speak to him”.

Two days ago, the crown prince said: “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today.”

Last week, the Kingdom’s Culture and Information Ministry said it planned to monitor interpretations of Islamic teachings used to justify violence or terrorism.

In response to a question about his attitude toward Putin, Sarkozy told the conference: “The problem in the world is extremism, assassins who kill innocent people. Please could someone explain to me why the problem in the world is Putin?

“I understood the biggest problem (is linked to) what the crown prince said (about extremism).

“We have had disagreements with Putin in the past and we have found ways to discuss them. Europe and Russia must work together. People tell me we have disagreements, but when you have disagreements with somebody, do you refuse to speak to them, or do you speak more with them?

“Are we going to resolve problems with Putin without speaking to him? We need Russia to resolve the Syria problem, we need Russia to fight extremism…we must reinforce dialogue across the countries of the world. Our enemy, our common enemy is extremism, as the crown prince said.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Sarkozy batted away a question about France’s role in an international coalition that overthrew Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Sarkozy said: “Do I regret the departure of the most bloody dictator in the world, Qaddafi? Libyan youth took to the streets to thank us. They said ‘we need liberty, we need work’. Shall I regret that? No.”

But he said he should have attached much more importance to the political situation afterwards “(That didn’t come about) because of the intervention, it was because Libya was abandoned after that,” he explained.

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