Monday, March 31, 2014

Obama Makes a Pilgrimage to Riyadh

by Zalman Shoval

Toward the end of World War II, then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz aboard the USS Quincy, which was anchored at Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal, and forged the U.S.-Saudi Quincy Agreement, based on the idea of security in exchange for oil.
Now, 69 years later, the agreement is beginning to unravel, and U.S. President Barack Obama hurried to Riyadh on Friday to try to tighten it up once again.
Despite advances in independent energy production, the U.S. still imports 15 percent of the oil it consumes from Saudi Arabia.
However, it is doubtful that Obama succeeded in his efforts, as the "unraveling" is of his doing and the Saudis are increasingly losing their faith in his foreign policy in general, and his Middle East policy in particular. The Saudi elite resents what it sees as Washington's negative role in the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and criticizes its chilly relationship with the new Egyptian leadership, headed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. The Saudis are angered by Washington's refusal to provide weapons to the Syrian rebels and its reversal on Syria's chemical weapons. They wonder about what they see as a complete misunderstanding on the part of the Americans of the implications of the Arab Spring, and, like Israel, they are skeptical and concerned about Obama's decision to shrink the U.S. military and the consequences this will have on America's allies in the Middle East.
This is only a partial list, but what bothers Riyadh more than anything, and what causes it to question the United States' leadership abilities, is the Obama administration's policy on the Iranian nuclear issue, a policy it sees as mistaken and indecisive to the point of being at peace with a nuclear Iran. Obama seemingly tried to convince the Saudi leadership that his Iran policy works to Saudi Arabia's benefit and to the benefit of its allies in the Gulf.
However, one can assume that his claim did not have much of an effect on King Abdullah and the Saudi elite, who see their rivalry with Iran as centering on regional hegemony and influence in the Middle East. They see Tehran's standing in the region growing stronger, between achieving nuclear weapons and newfound harmony with the United States.
Riyadh is also worried that if America and its partners declare that negotiations with Iran have reached a favorable outcome (without waiting to see if Tehran has truly curbed its nuclear ambitions), Washington will have another argument to support transferring the focus of its foreign policy and security from the Middle East to the Far East, leaving Iran's subversive activities in the region to continue unchecked.
The Saudi elite sees two conflict fronts around it that sometimes work together, and sometimes separately: Between the Sunni camp, under its own leadership, and the Shiite crescent under Iran's leadership, and between the moderate Sunni camp under its leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood who represent a political Islam that endangers the long-standing Sunni regimes. The conflicts within the Sunni camp recently saw the return of Saudi, Egyptian and Gulf state ambassadors from Qatar, which adopted a policy in support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a stance expressed most notably in Doha-based Al Jazeera news reports.
We don't know if the Abdullah-Obama meeting pushed some of the obstacles between the two countries out of the way, but according to the clues in statements released afterwards, it seems that despite the smiles, the disagreements persist, particularly regarding the Iranian issue.
So, what are the implications for Israel? Although there is no talk of any kind of official relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel emerging in the foreseeable future, and the former's recent refusal to grant the Jerusalem Post's Washington bureau chief a visa testifies to this, their parallel interests on issues including Iran, Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood is creating a new reality with many possibilities. To add flourish to its new situation, Israel can consider re-examining the Saudi peace initiative, on the condition that they remove the clauses and definitions that made it seem like a diktat rather than a possible basis for negotiations.

Zalman Shoval


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

No comments:

Post a Comment