Saudi Arabia severs diplomatic ties with US over response to conflict in Syria
Upset at President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.
Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief is vowing that the kingdom will make a ‘major shift’ in relations with the United States to protest perceived American inaction over Syria’s civil war as well as recent U.S. overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the United States had failed to act effectively against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.
‘The shift away from the U.S. is a major one,’ the source close to Saudi policy said. ‘Saudi doesn’t want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.’
It was not immediately clear whether the reported statements by Prince Bandar, who was the Saudi ambassador to Washington for 22 years, had the full backing of King Abdullah.
The growing breach between the United States and Saudi Arabia was also on display in Washington, where another senior Saudi prince criticized Obama’s Middle East policies, accusing him of ‘dithering’ on Syria and Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In unusually blunt public remarks, Prince Turki al-Faisal called Obama’s policies in Syria ‘lamentable’ and ridiculed a U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons. He suggested it was a ruse to let Obama avoid military action in Syria.
‘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, a member of the Saudi royal family and former director of Saudi intelligence.
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 U.S.-Saudi ties, which were also badly shaken by the September 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 U.N. 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.
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 son of the late defense minister and crown prince, Prince Sultan, and a protégé of the late King Fahd, he fell from favor with King Abdullah after clashing on foreign policy in 2005.
But he was called in from the cold last year with a mandate to bring down Assad, diplomats in the Gulf say. Over the past year, he has led Saudi efforts to bring arms and other aid to Syrian rebels.
‘Prince Bandar told diplomats that he plans to limit interaction with the U.S.,’ the source close to Saudi policy said.
The strange thing about the crackup in U.S.-Saudi relations is that it has been on the way for more than two years, like a slow-motion car wreck, but nobody in Riyadh or Washington has done anything decisive to avert it.
The breach became dramatic over the past week. Last Friday, Saudi Arabia refused to take its seat on the United Nations Security Council, in what Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, described as “a message for the U.S., not the U.N,” according to the Wall Street Journal. On Tuesday, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence, voiced “a high level of disappointment in the U.S. government’s dealings” on Syria and the Palestinian issue, in an interview with Al-Monitor.
What should worry the Obama administration is that Saudi concern about U.S. policy in the Middle East is shared by the four other traditional U.S. allies in the region: Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. They argue (mostly privately) that Obama has shredded U.S. influence by dumping President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, backing the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, opposing the coup that toppled Morsi, vacillating in its Syria policy, and now embarking on negotiations with Iran — all without consulting close Arab allies.
Saudi King Abdullah privately voiced his frustration with U.S. policy in a lunch in Riyadh Monday with King Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the U.A.E., according to a knowledgeable Arab official. The Saudi monarch “is convinced the U.S. is unreliable,” this official said. “I don’t see a genuine desire to fix it” on either side, he added.
The Saudis’ pique, in turn, has reinforced the White House’s frustration that Riyadh is an ungrateful and sometimes petulant ally. When Secretary of State John Kerry was in the region a few weeks ago, he asked to visit Bandar. The Saudi prince is said to have responded that he was on his way out of the kingdom, but that Kerry could meet him at the airport. This response struck U.S. officials as high-handed.
Saudi Arabia obviously wants attention, but what’s surprising is the White House’s inability to convey the desired reassurances over the past two years. The problem was clear in the fall of 2011, when I was told by Saudi officials in Riyadh that they increasingly regarded the U.S. as unreliable and would look elsewhere for their security. Obama’s reaction to these reports was to be peeved that the Saudis didn’t recognize all that the U.S. was doing to help their security, behind the scenes. The president was right on the facts but wrong on the atmospherics.
this hasnt gotten much exposure to the masses yet..but its very very significant and needs to be watched closely..is this acting or for real? the love is gone..when you dont make war you make the house of saud unhappy..