Monday, June 28, 2010

"... On Iran, the Saudis are like the Americans in that they know what they want but do not know how to achieve it"

Thomas W. Lippman guest at the RFI/ here

"... It would have seemed peculiar if King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia traveled all the way to Toronto for the G-20 economic summit and did not stop in Washington on his way home. .......Still, it is hard to imagine that the White House session on Tuesday will produce any game-changing agreements because while the two countries generally share the same strategic objectives, each wants something that the other is unable or unwilling to deliver.

The Saudis want the United States to find some way short of war to halt Iran’s nuclear program, and they want Obama to deliver on his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine question. The United States wants Saudi Arabia to do more—much more—to support Iraq, but the Saudis have made clear their reluctance to do that until a government to their liking, preferably led by Iyad Allawi, is installed in Baghdad....

According to American officials, the most important subject on the agenda is the faltering effort to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution. Obama has repeatedly stated a commitment to that objective—most recently after a meeting earlier this month with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas—and for a while after the Cairo speech the Saudis believed he would actually make something happen. They no longer believe, because in their view Obama backed down in the face of Israeli intransigence on his demand for a complete halt in settlement activity in the occupied territories.

They still prefer Obama to his predecessor, but their impatience and disillusionment were readily apparent in conversations with officials and analysts in Riyadh has month......

Obama’s relations with Abdullah got off to a rocky start in their Riyadh meeting a year ago when a poorly-briefed president asked the king for unilateral gestures of goodwill toward Israel, such as extending to Israeli aircraft the right to fly over Saudi air space. As was predictable, the king rebuffed the president ....... This time, according to U.S. officials, Obama is prepared to tell the king that he accepts the so-called Abdullah plan as a good faith offer that can be part of the negotiations with Israel. That is not an endorsement of the plan’s details, but it could be enough to persuade Abdullah to give the U.S. side what it will ask for: a public statement endorsing direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Given the Saudis’ cynicism about the “peace process,” that could be a useful symbolic gesture.

On Iran, the Saudis are like the Americans in that they know what they want but do not know how to achieve it. They want the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraq, stop supporting extremist groups and, most important, stop enriching uranium. They do not believe the latest round of economic sanctions will deter Iran, but they oppose military action by the United States—or, worse yet, Israel—to halt the nuclear program. ....... Saudi Arabia did not oppose the latest U.N. sanctions—Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal even went to Beijing to urge China to support them. But after a meeting in February with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prince Saud said that “sanctions are a long term solution, but we see the issue in the shorter term, maybe because we are closer to the threats than that. So we need immediate resolution rather than gradual resolution in this regard.”

He did not specify what “immediate resolution” he had in mind. Nor could he have done so because, according to Saudi officials I talked to in Riyadh last month, no one has devised any “immediate resolution” short of the war the Saudis don’t want...."

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