Saudi royal blasts Obama Mideast policies
Washington, October 23, 2013
In unusually blunt public remarks, another senior Saudi prince has criticised Obama's Middle East policies, accusing him of "dithering" on Syria and Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Prince Turki Al Faisal, a leading member of the Saudi royal family and former director of Saudi intelligence, called Obama's policies in Syria "lamentable" and ridiculed a US-Russian deal to eliminate Assad's chemical weapons. He suggested it was a ruse to let Obama avoid military action in Syria.
Prince Turki's comments come close on the heels of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, saying that the kingdom will make a "major shift" in relations with the US to protest perceived American inaction over Syria's civil war as well as recent US overtures to Iran.
"The current charade of international control over Bashar's chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. And designed not only to give Mr Obama an opportunity to back down (from military strikes), but also to help Assad to butcher his people," said Prince Turki in Washington.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have been allies since the kingdom was declared in 1932, giving Riyadh a powerful military protector and Washington secure oil supplies.
The Saudi criticism came days after the 40th anniversary of the October 1973 Arab oil embargo imposed to punish the West for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur war.
That was one of the low points in US-Saudi ties, which were also badly shaken by the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Saudi Arabia gave a clear sign of its displeasure over Obama's foreign policy last week when it rejected a coveted two-year term on the UN Security Council in a display of anger over the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues.
Prince Turki indicated that Saudi Arabia will not reverse that decision, which he said was a result of the Security Council's failure to stop Assad and implement its own decision on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"There is nothing whimsical about the decision to forgo membership of the Security Council. It is based on the ineffectual experience of that body," he said in a speech to the Washington-based National Council on US-Arab Relations.
'FRIENDS AND ALLIES'
In London, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he discussed Riyadh's concerns when he met Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Paris on Monday.
Kerry said he told the Saudi minister no deal with Iran was better than a bad deal. "I have great confidence that the United States and Saudi Arabia will continue to be the close and important friends and allies that we have been," Kerry told reporters.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Riyadh had not conveyed to the State Department its intention to reduce its cooperation with the US. She said the issue was also not raised in the meeting between Kerry and the Saudi minister.
"Not to my knowledge has that message been sent to the State Department by the Saudis," Harf told a daily briefing. "We talked about some of the challenging issues that we want to confront together," she said.
Prince Bandar is seen as a foreign policy hawk, especially on Iran. The Sunni Muslim kingdom's rivalry with Shi'ite Iran, an ally of Syria, has amplified sectarian tensions across the Middle East.
'A BIG MISTAKE'
Representative Chris Van Hollen, a member of the US House of Representatives' Democratic leadership, told Reuters' Washington Summit on Tuesday that the Saudi moves were intended to pressure Obama to take action in Syria.
"We know their game. They're trying to send a signal that we should all get involved militarily in Syria, and I think that would be a big mistake to get in the middle of the Syrian civil war," Van Hollen said.
"And the Saudis should start by stopping their funding of the Al Qaeda-related groups in Syria. In addition to the fact that it's a country that doesn't allow women to drive," said Van Hollen, who is close to Obama on domestic issues in Congress but is less influential on foreign policy.
Saudi Arabia is concerned about signs of a tentative reconciliation between Washington and Tehran, something Riyadh fears may lead to a "grand bargain" on the Iranian nuclear program that would leave Riyadh at a disadvantage.
Prince Turki expressed doubt that Obama would succeed in what he called an "open arms approach" to Iran, which he accused of meddling in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain.
"We Saudis observe President Obama's efforts in this regard. The road ahead is arduous," he said. "Whether (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani will succeed in steering Iran toward sensible policies is already contested in Iran. The forces of darkness in Qom and Tehran are well entrenched." - Reuters