Saudi King Skips G-20 and Sends Davos Regular to Meet Leaders

  • No official explanation to Saudi decision on summit attendance
  • Germany initially criticized Saudi-led action against Qatar

Investors Hope for Cooperation at the G-20 Summit

The gathering of world leaders isn’t for everyone this year.

Saudi King Salman is staying away from the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg and instead sent a cabinet minister who regularly attends the World Economic Forum in Davos. There was no official Saudi explanation as to why the king decided to be the only leader not to attend.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency issued a statement on Thursday saying Former Finance Minister Ibrahim Assaf will lead the delegation on behalf of the king. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert had said a day earlier his country received official confirmation the king was skipping the G-20.

It’s now been a month since a Saudi-led bloc of four countries moved to quarantine Gulf neighbor Qatar, stopping air, sea and land links on June 5. They say the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas is destabilizing the region by supporting proxies of Shiite Muslim Iran and Sunni militants of al-Qaeda and Islamic State, accusations the government in Doha has denied.

The king’s absence in Hamburg may be a protest against the German reaction, according to Khaled Batarfi, a Saudi analyst who teaches at Alfaisal University, which is based in Riyadh. A day after the Saudi-led measures, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called the action dangerous and told the Handelsblatt newspaper he would query Saudi Arabia’s “extremely harsh actions” when at a meeting with his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubeir.

"This is the Saudi way, sending a diplomatic message without making a fuss," said Batarfi. It was likely a message of "resentment to Germany, that we are not satisfied with your position on the Qatar crisis."

Assaf has led the Saudis in Davos and been present at previous G-20 meetings. King Salman had been planning to attend the summit in Hamburg, with Turkish and other news outlets reporting last month that he and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were planning a face-to-face meeting.

The king and his son attended the one in the Turkish resort of Antalya in 2015, while he sent Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now his heir, to China last year.

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio on Thursday, German minster Gabriel seemed to soften his stance on Qatar, saying "we had the impression at the beginning actually that there could be a real danger of military escalation. I believe this doesn’t exist at this stage.”

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